26 June 2023

53rd Session of the Human Rights Council: Joint Oral Statement on Deaths in Prisons

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Joint oral statement by Harm Reduction International, Penal Reform International and Promo-LEX to the Interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions regarding his latest report on deaths in prisons

Distinguish delegates,

Harm Reduction International (HRI), Penal Reform International, and Promo-LEX welcome the report on deaths in prisons and the recognition of harm reduction as a key element of the right to health and an effective mecmhanism to prevent deaths.

Drug offences account for 22% of convictions globally, with drug policies being a key contributor to prison overcrowding. These, coupled with poor detention conditions and inadequate health services, make prisons and custody settings high-risk environments for the spread of potentially deadly diseases.

People who use drugs represent half of the prison population globally, and accidental or intentional intoxication for overdose are recurring cause of death in custody. However, people deprived of liberty continue to be severely underserved by harm reduction and other health services that could prevent drug-related deaths. HRI’s Global State of Harm Reduction shows that only 10 countries provide Needle and Syringe Programs, and 59 countries provide Opioid Agonist therapy in at least one prison.

The lack of official, updated and disaggregated data on drug-related deaths, coupled with the lack of a clear definition of death in custody, leads to deaths being under-investigated, with no accountability, and families not receiving support and remedies they need.

We call on all member States to take all necessary measures to protect the right to life and the right to health of people deprived of liberty, including but not limited to providing life-saving harm reduction services, collecting and publishing official, updated and disaggregated data and reducing prison overcrowding.

We thank you.

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