Australian Institute of Criminology

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Measuring the prevalence of mental disorders is not a straightforward task and is all the more complex in field research that takes place in the criminal justice system. It is unclear how well population mental health measures perform with offender populations and whether all offender populations can be assumed to be the same. The physical and legal environment in which criminological research takes place poses additional challenges that need to be anticipated, analysed and accounted for when designing instruments and interpreting results.

It would be useful to develop mental health screening instruments that have demonstrated validity with Australian offenders of both genders, Indigenous backgrounds and across custody situations. Accurate screening instruments can assist with the identification of current and unmet need, which is arguably one of the most relevant issues from a health planning perspective. Identifying and monitoring the prevalence of mental disorder to enable a better understanding of the associations between mental disorder, drug use and offending would provide useful data for current therapeutic jurisprudence initiatives (which aim to reduce recidivism by addressing the factors contributing to offending behaviour) as well as other crime prevention and rehabilitation initiatives. At a broader level, disproportionately high rates of mental disorder among offenders, or certain groups of offenders, may also be reflective of alienation, powerlessness and poverty experienced disproportionately by some members of the community (Eriksen & Kress 2008; Horsfall 2001). Seen from this perspective, the information provided by a large ongoing source such as the DUMA program may not only inform individually focused rehabilitative efforts, but also solutions situated at a broader societal or systemic level.

Related links

Measuring mental health in criminology research: Lessons from the Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program: