Health in European Prisons: Better or Worse than America?

This blog post will be looking at the health of inmates and prisons in Europe in comparison to the health of inmates and prisons here in America. The topics that will be covered include: women’s health, overcrowding, and juveniles. The World Health Organization (WHO) of Europe released a guide to the essentials of prison health. I will be using this to compare prisoner health in Europe to America’s prison health. The link to this guide is located here:


Women’s Health

The number of women incarcerated is increasing steadily around the world. The most prevalent offenses that put women behind bars are nonviolent in nature. Being a woman in prison makes the chances of being sexually assaulted much higher than that of a male counterpart, regardless of that woman’s offense: violent or nonviolent.

Many European women in prison are mothers, which subsequently affects roughly 10,000 children. In most European countries, babies are allowed to stay with their mothers in prison. Age three is roughly the cutoff age for children to be allowed. Could this have any negative affect on these children?


In America, it’s estimated that roughly 45-60% of women in federal prisons have been sexually assaulted. This can obviously lead to mental health problems later in life for a woman of any age. The risk of contracting an STD from a sexual assault in prison is much higher in America, as STD’s are more prevalent in American jails and prisons because the incarceration rate in America is so much higher.

Unlike Europe however, women are not permitted to keep their children in jail with them at any age in America, with the exception of roughly 8 prisons across the nation. The children are allowed to visit in jail, but cannot stay there with their mothers. However, in America prenatal care is given to female inmates that discover they are pregnant upon arrival. Care is also given to women that give birth in jail as well.

So, who has the better health in prisons for women, Europe or America?


At any given time, roughly 2 million people are incarcerated in Europe. While overcrowding is obviously an issue across Europe, there are some countries that have serious problems with it such as: EU, France, Norway, and Denmark. Not only is overcrowding a health hazard, as it is a prime way to spread diseases and increase mental illness prevalence, but it is also financially irresponsible. There are not enough proper resources to go around, and for some countries in Europe, this makes the death tolls very high.

This video illustrates the overcrowding population that France is having:

In America, there are roughly 2.4 million people incarcerated at any given time. That’s more than all of Europe combined. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) provides some very interesting information about overcrowding in American prisons, which can found here:

20101129_prisons_capacity-source-prod_affiliate-91The United States is #1 in the world in prison overcrowding, which is a serious health threat to the entire population. So many people in America cycle through the prison system in any given year and those people can pick up diseases in jail and spread them to the rest of the population very easily upon release. Because of the sheer numbers of people incarcerated, this is a real public health issue that needs to be addressed immediately.


In Europe, juveniles are locked up far less frequently than in America. European children and teens are much more likely to be sent to a type of therapy or rehabilitation program before they are sent to juvenile jail. However, in America these children will be taken to juvenile detention centers to serve out their sentences almost immediately unless the juvenile has an obvious mental illness, in which case the individual would be taken to a rehabilitation facility. Mental illness becomes very prevalent in both places as a result of juvenile detention. Which model do you think works better? Should children and teens be locked up for committing a crime, when their brains aren’t even fully developed yet? These are just some the questions I think of when comparing Europe and America’s juvenile models.

little-kids-1Diversion plans are implemented in Europe in an attempt to prevent children and teens from committing crimes and entering the prison system at a young age. Juveniles can absolutely be considered vulnerable individuals and should be treated in such a way. Juveniles need to be taught right from wrong and they need to be given care and compassion. These diversion plans aim to do just that. However, America’s juveniles get put on regimented schedules every day to enforce conformity and obedience.

I wonder if children were put through different types of programs, other than juvenile detention, if they would end up committing fewer crimes as adults? I also wonder if mental illness rates would be affected at all with the use of a different program implementation. European prison health and American prison health are ultimately comparable, but do have some slight differences when it comes to these three particular categories of women’s health, overcrowding, and juveniles.

If you have any thoughts about this post, I would love to read them!


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