Control and choice in English prisons: developing health-promoting prisons

Health Promot Int. 2014 Sep;29(3):474-82. doi: 10.1093/heapro/dat019. Epub 2013 Apr 10.


The 'health-promoting prison' has been informed by a broader settings-based philosophy to health promotion which conceptualizes health as the responsibility for all social settings. Though in its relative infancy, the notion of a health-promoting prison has gained political backing from international organizations like the World Health Organization, but the implementation of the policy rhetoric has not translated across all prison environments. The aim of this paper is to consider how key elements of health promotion discourse-choice, control and implicitly, empowerment-can apply in the context of imprisonment. These concepts were examined in three category-C (secure) prisons in England, through interviews with 36 male prisoners and 19 prison staff conducted by the first author. Analysis showed that prisoners negotiated the norms, structures and strictures of prison life by both relinquishing control and also by taking control, showing resistance and exercising some element of choice. The paradox is that, as most prisoners are expected to be released at some point they need to exercise some agency, control and choice, but these learning experiences may be constrained whilst 'inside'. The paper argues that if a settings approach in prison is truly to move forward, both conceptually and practically, then health promoters should seek to embed the key values of health promotion within the prison setting.

Keywords: health promotion discourse; prison; settings.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • England
  • Health Promotion / organization & administration*
  • Health Services Needs and Demand
  • Humans
  • Internal-External Control*
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Male
  • Men's Health*
  • Prisoners / psychology*
  • Prisons / organization & administration*