This paper aims to provide evidence of the healthcare needs of prisoners in relation to gender, age and ethnicity, drawing from a larger systematic overview of the policy and research literature concerning primary care nursing in prisons in England and Wales. The literature overview shaped the initial stages of a research project funded by the Department of Health to examine the views and perspectives of prisoners and nurses working in prisons, and to identify good primary care nursing in the prison environment. At total of 17 databases were searched using search terms related to primary healthcare in prisons (health, nurs*, primary care, healthcare, family medicine, prison*, offender*, inmate*) with terms truncated where possible in the different databases. Following this, a sifting phase was employed using inclusion/exclusion criteria to narrow and focus the literature perceived as relevant to the research questions. All papers were critically appraised for quality using standardised tools. Findings from the literature overview show that prisoners are more likely to have suffered some form of social exclusion compared to the rest of society, and there are significantly greater degrees of mental health problems, substance abuse and worse physical health in prisoners than in the general population. Women, young offenders, older prisoners and those from minority ethnic groups have distinct health needs compared to the prison population taken as a whole, with implications for the delivery of prison healthcare, and how these needs are met effectively and appropriately.