1. Please give a summary of your research.
Hepatitis C (HCV) is highly prevalent in the prison setting, with an estimated HCV-antibody prevalence of 26% among the global prisoner population. Although HCV treatment is available in the prison setting, a number of barriers exist resulting in low treatment uptake.
My PhD research explored the social capital of men in prison living with hepatitis C. Social capital is a valuable social resource that has been shown to influence health outcomes at both the individual and community level (e.g., smoking cessation), in essence, relationships matter. This novel approach to understanding facilitators of HCV health care, education, and treatment access among the prisoner population identified ways in which relationships between prisoners and between prisoners and health care staff and correctional personnel can influence health care access in the prison setting.
In-depth interviews were conducted with thirty male inmates living with HCV. Analysis of these interviews aided in identifying social capital dimensions in the prison setting (e.g., trust and safety, reciprocity, agency, formal and informal networks). This included people in prison seeking care for HCV to feel they were treated and cared for as a patient, rather than a ‘crim’.
Findings from this PhD research show that social capital theory is an effective strategy for exploring HCV treatment uptake among men in prison and that, in fact, relationships do matter. Social capital was found to influence healthcare decision-making processes among people in prison living with HCV, a chronic condition that is often highly stigmatised. Although this research focused on those living with HCV, these findings are likely transferable to other health issues and outcomes among the prisoner population, including health access and care. If people in prison trust their health care provider, this will have impacts on their overall health care.
2. Please include any additional details you would like to share
Hepatitis C is highly prevalent among those incarcerated, with 26% prevalence among the global prisoner population, compared with 1% in the general community.
People in prison are physically and socially isolated from the outside world, highly restricted in their interactions with mainstream society. People in prison, particularly those who ‘cycle’ through the system from prison to community to prison, often have complex family and social lifestyles in the community. For people who inject drugs, their connections with family and friends on the outside may be further restricted due to policies which revoke visitation among those found to be using drugs.
The use of social capital theory identified systemic and cultural barriers within the prison which may hinder prisoners’ access to treatment (and possibly other healthcare). This research highlighted the ways in which social interactions, between prisoners and between prisoners and correctional personnel and those working in correctional health clinics can create a sense of support and encouragement beneficial to self-improvement (such as undergoing treatment to clear a virus) among those incarcerated. Social capital was found to influence healthcare decision-making processes among people in prison living with hepatitis C, a chronic condition that is often highly stigmatised.