Nsawam, Ghana, 18 July 2023 – It is estimated that 18% of the global prison population is incarcerated for drug-related crimes, which amounts to approximately two million people worldwide. Often these people are low-level offenders who use drugs or have drug use disorders. Most of them will eventually leave prison and return to society. However, with little or no evidence-based drug use disorder treatment programmes in prisons, the risk of relapse is high and the chances for re-integration low.
Ensuring quality healthcare for individuals with drug use disorders in prisons requires universal health coverage, equity, and collaboration between health, justice, and social services to avoid them being left behind. As explicitly stated by the Nelson Mandela Rules: “Prisoners should enjoy the same standards of health care that are available in the community, and should have access to necessary health-care services free of charge without discrimination on the grounds of their legal status. […] Health-care services should be organized in close relationship to the general public health administration and in a way that ensures continuity of treatment and care, including for HIV, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases, as well as for drug dependence.”
On the occasion of the Nelson Mandela International Day and as part of a comprehensive three-year project on “Strengthening the Compliance of the Ghana Prisons Service with the Nelson Mandela Rules” funded by the US State Department, UNODC is conducting a five-day workshop for 23 prison officers from eight stations of the Ghana Prisons Service, one official of the Narcotic Control Commission, and members of civil society (Fair Justice Initiative and POS Foundation) with a view to enhance existing drug treatment programmes in Ghanaian prisons and introduce new ones to be spread across the country.
To improve public health and safety in both communities and prisons, it is crucial to address the treatment gap for individuals with drug use disorders. This involves enhancing access to evidence-based treatment, which can lead to reduced substance use, fewer interactions with the criminal justice system, and decreased prison overcrowding. A collaborative and synergistic approach between health and justice is essential to achieve these goals.
Based on UNODC’s Treatnet Training, the participants were introduced to basics of addiction, screening, assessment, treatment planning and care coordination as well elements of psychological treatment to equip them with the knowledge needed to set up and conduct treatment programmes at their various stations,
The workshop is the first of a series on enhancing access to healthcare in Ghanaian prisons and will be followed by logistical support to five selected prison healthcare facilities in Ghana. As highlighted by the Director for Health of the Ghana Prisons Service, Ms. Gloria Essandoh, “It is important to not forget that prisoners’ health is public health, and that the treatment of prisoners is indicative of society’s commitment to justice.”
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