Background: The Healthy Prisons Agenda seeks to reduce prisoners' health risks, balance prisoners' rights with a security regime, ensure equivalent prison health service provisions to community health services, and facilitate the whole-prison approach. There is an established assumption that legislation will ensure better implementation of health promotion programmes. This study aimed to examine whether a legislative framework, via a direct regulation, could lead to enhanced implementation of the Healthy Prisons Agenda in England.
Methods: A qualitative study design was conducted using semi-structured interviews with 30 key prison policy makers in England.
Findings: Our findings contradict the established assumption that legislation improves the implementation of health promotion programmes. A direct regulation was perceived as restrictive, manifesting excessive compliance and encouraging a risk-averse culture, whilst preoccupation with security, order and discipline amongst prison governors and custody staff was deemed an internal institutional barrier to implementing the Healthy Prisons Agenda. External barriers included diminishing resources, lengthier or delayed sentencing, and an unsympathetic public and political stance towards prisoner rehabilitation.
Conclusions: A direct regulation should not be used to operationalize the Healthy Prisons Agenda. Rather, self-regulation, along with proactive solutions for the identified barriers to implementing the Agenda, is the most appropriate path forward.