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Mortality and morbidity in released prisoners

Media Release

11 September 2006

The Australian Institute of Criminology today released a report and paper on the mortality and morbidity of prisoners after release - Mortality and morbidity in prisoners after release from prison in Western Australia 1995-2003, No. 71 in Research and public policy series, and the related paper, No. 320, in the Trends and issues in crime and criminal justice series.

To date few studies have examined the health of prisoners after release into the community. Funded by the Criminology Research Council, a study was undertaken in Western Australia on the long-term use of health services pre- and post- imprisonment, by 13,667 offenders released from prison over a six year period.

Key findings from this major study include:

  • After adjustment for age, gender and Indigenous status, released prisoners have substantially higher risks of death and hospital admission than the general population.
  • Deaths caused by injury or poisoning or acute and chronic effects of alcohol or drug addiction accounted for over 60 percent of all deaths.
  • Risk of death was four times greater in the first six months after release, and increased with age. It was significantly higher in Indigenous prisoners and those who had multiple imprisonment.
  • Indigenous prisoners are more like to suffer ill-health and injury than the Indigenous population generally. Rates of hospital admissions for mental disorders and injury and poisoning were approximately twice as great in Indigenous male prisoners and three times as great in Indigenous female prisoners as in the Indigenous population in Western Australia.
  • Constituting 11 percent of released prisoners, female prisoners are at substantially higher risks of death and hospitalisation than male prisoners after release. In the five years after first release, 31 percent of Indigenous women and 24 percent of non-Indigenous women had at least one hospital admission or contact with mental health services for mental health disorders. In the male prisoners the respective proportions were 19 percent and 17 percent

The study found that prisoners often have long-term health problems that pre-date imprisonment. It also highlights the importance of mental health problems, including addictive behaviour, and injury and poisoning as causes of both death and morbidity, and the strong link between these conditions and repeated imprisonment.

The higher risk of death and hospitalisation of Indigenous prisoners, and the high proportion of women prisoners with health problems, underlines their need for specific services.

Close cooperation between prison health services and mental health services is also required to ensure continuity of treatment of prisoners with mental health problems after their release into the community.