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Health promotion in a prison setting: an exploratory study on why and how to do it

Andreia de Castro Rodrigues (Center for Research in Psychology, University of Minho, Braga, Portugal) (University Lusíada North, Porto, Portugal)
Glória Jólluskin (University Fernando Pessoa, Porto, Portugal)
Isabel Silva (University Fernando Pessoa, Porto, Portugal)

International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare

ISSN: 2056-4902

Article publication date: 12 March 2018




Developing interventions in challenging contexts should imply proper discussion from its theoretical framework to implementation details. The purpose of this paper is to examine health promotion in prison settings as a mean of improving inmates’ rights concerning physical/emotional well-being, empowering inmates both to reclusion and re-entry challenges.


The development of a health promotion program, implemented in a prison setting with an initial group of 11 inmates, is described. The program design followed professionals’ and inmates’ inputs and previous similar interventions taking a peer education, community-based and participative approach.


Although some prison settings present major constraints to interventions’ development, the authors were able to perform the program and reinforced the idea that prisons can and should be health-promoting contexts. The authors found several specific needs that must be addressed when people are under custody, if we want imprisonment to be developmental instead of detrimental experiences.

Research limitations/implications

As a single-year-funded program, its replication and valid evaluation were enabled. Being external to the system also complicated the process agility, and conditioned inmates’ selection and compliance.

Practical implications

This paper promotes a best-practices forum in this issue; it addresses prison health agents’ training, who may assume an institutional essential role; it concerns inmates’ rehabilitation and ultimately, community health and safety.


The use of a peer education approach in these contexts is an innovative feature, since it has been developed in other institutional contexts and social groups. Nevertheless, the authors maintain the strong adequacy of this methodology to work with inmates and inside prison settings.



This study was funded by Fundação Calouste Gulbenkian, Portugal.


de Castro Rodrigues, A., Jólluskin, G. and Silva, I. (2018), "Health promotion in a prison setting: an exploratory study on why and how to do it", International Journal of Human Rights in Healthcare, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 65-80.



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