Human Rights Law Centre

Deaths in Prison Worldwide

Preventable prison deaths are common in every country, causing significant harms to families, prisons and societies. This research project, supported by HRLC, brings together an interdisciplinary team of experts, practitioners and policymakers across law, sociology, penology, human rights, public health and bioethics to examine deaths in prison globally.

The prisonDEATH project brings together a multidisciplinary team from the University of Nottingham, National University of Ireland Galway and the Norwegian University of Science and Technology to provide the first in-depth analysis of (preventable) prison deaths, seeking to reduce the harms of deaths in prison and improve the quality of prison life globally.

This collaborative project is supported by prisonHEALTH and the Human Rights Law Centre and led by Dr Philippa Tomczak (UoN), Dr Róisín Mulgrew (NUIG, Irish Centre for Human Rights) and Dr Catherine Appleton (NTNU, Institute of Mental Health). At this preliminary stage, the research team is attempting to understand the main causes of deaths in prison and identify the major issues involved in preventing, managing and investigating deaths in prisons.

HRLC researchers, Zinat Jimada and Tom Welch, have identified, collated and categorised legal and rights-based data and scholarship on deaths in prison, including:

  • Relevant human rights and penal standards contained within international and regional treaties, soft law, and judicial and committee decisions;
  • Recommendations of UNHRC Special Procedures Rapporteurs, the OAS Rapporteur on Rights of Person Deprived of Liberty, and the African Commission Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing;
  • Reports from prison oversight bodies including the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture, UN Subcommittee for the Prevention of Torture, and Committee for the Prevention of Torture in Africa; and
  • NGO reports, recommendations, and guidelines relevant to deaths in prison.

This project is facilitated by the University of Nottingham Faculty of Social Sciences and Dr Phillipa Tomczak's UKRI Future Leaders Fellowship MR/T019085/1. The research team is working in partnership with Penal Reform International and the international community, seeking to put the overlooked issue of prison deaths on the global penal reform agenda.

Project team

  • Dr Philippa Tomczak, Principal Research Fellow (Associate Professor), Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham
  • Dr Róisín Mulgrew, Lecturer Above The Bar, National University of Ireland Galway; Irish Centre for Human Rights
  • Dr Catherine Appleton, Norwegian University of Science and Technology; Institute of Mental Health
  • Zinat Jimada and Tom Welch, HRLC Research and Projects Assistants

Human Rights Law Centre

School of Law
University of Nottingham
University Park
Nottingham, NG7 2RD

+44 (0)115 846 8506