End-of-life in prison: legal context, institutions and actors

People in prison are not free to choose how and where they die. This means that the issue of dying with dignity requires special attention in the prison setting. This study examines what it means to die in prison and what ethical, legal and security-related issues are important.

  • Project description (completed research project)

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    Under the law, persons in prison are supposed to have the same access to an equivalent range of services, including medical care, as the rest of the population. The majority of the issues and problems related to end-of-life in the general population are the same in the prison setting. But it must be considered that the conditions and processes connected with the end-of-life in prisons present a number of hurdles. These make meeting the demands of care and pain relief in the setting of incarceration and punishment more difficult. What is more, Swiss prisons house a steadily growing number of older persons. Also, the trend is for stricter and longer sentences, as can be seen in changes in prison sentence practice and in the new option of the lifelong detention. This increases the number of persons who will die in prison. Ongoing discussion about good dying and palliative care shows that precisely those persons who cannot choose how and where they die require special attention.

  • Aim

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    Using ethnographic methods, case studies and legal analyses, this study examines end-of-life issues from the perspective of different actors and at different institutional levels in the Swiss penitentiary system. The aim is to analyse the legal and institutional bases and current practice in dealing with the end-of-life and dying in different prisons. Further, the research team will reconstruct specific cases from the perspective of the persons involved (inmates, family members, staff, other institutional actors) and document emerging institutional solutions and examples of good practice.

  • Relevance

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    This study takes up a new and growing social problem. It deals with institutional handling issues and good practice with regard to the end-of-life in the context of the Swiss penitentiary system and will thus serve the interests of both the practical and the research realm.

  • Original title

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    End-of-Life in Prison: legal context, institutions and actors