Self-reported health status in underserved population of prisoners has not been extensively explored. The purposes of this cross-sectional study were to assess self-reported health, quality of life, and access to health services in a sample of male prisoners of Italy.
A total of 908 prisoners received a self-administered anonymous questionnaire pertaining on demographic and detention characteristics, self-reported health status and quality of life, access to health services, lifestyles, and participation to preventive, social, and rehabilitation programs. A total of 650 prisoners agreed to participate in the study and returned the questionnaire.
Respectively, 31.6% and 43.5% of prisoners reported a poor perceived health status and a poor quality of life, and 60% admitted that their health was worsened or greatly worsened during the prison stay. Older age, lower education, psychiatric disorders, self-reported health problems on prison entry, and suicide attempts within prison were significantly associated with a perceived worse health status. At the time of the questionnaire delivery, 30% of the prisoners self-reported a health problem present on prison entry and 82% present at the time of the survey. Most frequently reported health problems included dental health problems, arthritis or joint pain, eye problems, gastrointestinal diseases, emotional problems, and high blood pressure. On average, prisoners encountered general practitioners six times during the previous year, and the frequency of medical encounters was significantly associated with older age, sentenced prisoners, psychiatric disorders, and self-reported health problems on prison entry.
The findings suggest that prisoners have a perceived poor health status, specific care needs and health promotion programs are seldom offered. Programs for correction of risk behaviour and prevention of long-term effects of incarceration on prisoners' health are strongly needed.