The Right to Health Care in Prison during the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The Right to Health Care in Prison during the COVID-19 Pandemic Download the 22-page document. 22 Pages, 540.64 Kb, PDF Download
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The Right to Health Care in Prison during the COVID-19 Pandemic (Spanish) Download the 22-page document in Spanish. 22 Pages, 557.44 Kb, PDF Download
July 2020

Around the world, governments and other decision-makers have failed to limit the spread of COVID-19 in prisons, leading to an increasing number of infections among incarcerated populations and COVID-19 related deaths behind bars. As underscored by the World Health Organization, local efforts to control COVID-19 are likely to fail if authorities do not adopt strong measures in prisons and other places of detention. Yet international standards for the protection of prisoners’ health—even during a pandemic—do exist and can be used by prisoners’ rights advocates to fight for appropriate health care.

This legal brief by the Justice Initiative details the international legal framework that governs the duty of states to protect the health and life of incarcerated persons during the COVID-19 pandemic. It serves as a concise guide to international standards and norms to support legal practitioners and advocates fighting for and litigating the human rights of those in prison.

The brief details:

  • Specific preventive measures that states should immediately adopt, including providing incarcerated people, staff, and visitors with information about the virus that allows them to protect themselves, the provision of adequate hygiene and cleaning products and personal protective equipment, and the implementation of wide-spread testing
  • Guidelines on the provision of treatment and medication
  • Guidelines on physical distancing and medical isolation, including how to manage contact with the outside world and ensure access to lawyers during the pandemic
  • The duty to properly and independently investigate cases of death in prison
  • The increased need for states to be more transparent in disclosing measures taken to address the pandemic


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