Health Benefits of Legal Services for Criminalized Populations: The Case of People Who Use Drugs, Sex Workers and Sexual and Gender Minorities


  • Joanne Csete,

    1. Associate Professor of Clinical Population and Family Health at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health
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  • Jonathan Cohen

    1. Director of the Law and Health Initiative at the Open Society Institute, overseeing legal assistance, litigation, and law reform efforts to advance public health goals worldwide.
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Social exclusion and legal marginalization are important determinants of health outcomes for people who use illicit drugs, sex workers, and persons who face criminal penalties because of homosexuality or transgenderism. Incarceration may add to the health risks associated with police repression and discrimination for these persons. Access to legal services may be essential to positive health outcomes in these populations. Through concrete examples, this paper explores types of legal problems and legal services linked to health outcomes for drug users, sex workers, and sexual minorities and makes recommendations for donors, legal service providers, and civil society organizations.