I am very excited to have been accepted as a guest author for this excellent blog on prisoners’ rights law. Like Margaret, I am also a law librarian who is deeply interested in prisoners’ rights. My research specialization is in foreign and international law. As I read German proficiently, my research focuses primarily on German-speaking countries.
Last summer I started a research project exploring the laws that define prisoner healthcare rights in Germany, with the eventual goal of comparing them to those rights of prisoners in the United States. I undertook this project mainly to keep my German skills fresh; however, it quickly became an area of great interest to me. As I was researching this topic, I found myself thinking about prisoner healthcare in a much deeper way, and asking myself a lot of questions. How much healthcare do prisoners deserve? Should they receive better care than law-abiding citizens on the outside? Can prison be a place where people who are completely ignorant of basic healthy practices become educated about them? Should it be? What do the quantity and nature of healthcare services we provide to prisoners say about us as a society?
In Germany, healthcare rights for prisoners are guaranteed under the federal government’s Prison Code (Strafvollzugsgesetz – abbreviated in German as StVollzG). Several German states (Länder) also have their own prison codes guaranteeing similar, if not additional, healthcare rights for prisoners.
The Strafvollzugsgesetz includes general health care provisions that apply to all prisoners, as well as additional provisions that apply expressly to female inmates. German correctional facilities must to provide physical and emotional healthcare services to prisoners, who are legally obligated to act in accordance with their best health-related interests. (StVollzG § 56) Periodic medical exams and cancer screenings are required by law, as is medical treatment for illnesses. (StVollzG § 57) Medical treatment is defined as the provision of services which are necessary to diagnose and treat illness, prevent an illness’s progression, and relieve suffering. (StVollzG § 59) If the prison’s medical facilities cannot provide sufficient treatment for an inmate’s medical needs, then the inmate has the legal right to be treated at a facility outside the prison. (StVollzG § 65)
Pregnant inmates also have the right to certain medical services under the Strafvollzugsgesetz: pregnancy testing, prenatal care, medication, and care from a doctor and/or a midwife during labor and delivery. (StVollzG §§ 76-77) Absent any special circumstances, a female inmate must be transported outside of the prison facility to give birth. (StVollzG § 76)
This information represents just the start of my research on this topic. However, I am already impressed by the thorough description of prisoner healthcare access rights in Germany’s federal statutory law. As my research progresses, I will seek to compare the legal guarantees for prisoner healthcare in Germany to those in the United States. I have to admit that, based on my initial research, I am not confident that American prisoners enjoy nearly the same rights and access to the healthcare services that are mandated by law for German prisoners. This is especially true for female inmates, on whom I intend to focus my future research in this area.