Health of people in Australia’s prisons

More than half of prison entrants surveyed for the 6th survey on the health of people in Australian prisons said they had been previously diagnosed with a mental health condition and many reported a family history of incarceration.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) today released The health of people in Australia’s prisons 2022, which includes information gathered from 73 of 87 prisons in scope for the survey across Australia (excluding Victoria) to develop a comprehensive view of the health, wellbeing and social factors that affect people before, during and after time in prison. 

Most prison dischargees surveyed for the report were happy with the health care they received in prison. 

‘Many people in prison come from disadvantaged backgrounds, with poorer physical and mental health outcomes than the general population,’ said AIHW spokesperson Amanda Donges. 

‘They are less likely to have accessed health care services in the community, and more likely to have a history of risky behaviours that can affect health and wellbeing.’

Nearly one-third (31%) of prison entrants had an education level of Year 9 or below. In the 30 days before entering prison, more than 4 in 10 (43%) were homeless, nearly half (46%) were unemployed and 1 in 20 (5.1%) were studying. More than half of surveyed prison entrants (51%) reported a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition, including alcohol and other drug use disorders. 

Almost three quarters (73%) of prison entrants reported using illicit drugs at least once during the previous 12 months. 

One in 4 (25%) prison entrants reported that one or more parents or carers had been in prison when they were a child. This was more than twice as likely among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (First Nations) entrants (36%) than non-Indigenous entrants (15%). Four in 10 (42%) prison entrants aged 18–24 had a parent or carer in prison during their childhood.

‘The majority of people reported access to a range of health care and other services in prison. Nearly three quarters (72%) of prison dischargees rated the healthcare they received in the prison clinic as good or excellent,’ Ms Donges said.

‘Four in 5 (80%) reported their physical health improved or stayed the same while in prison. A similar proportion (81%) reported their mental health improved or stayed the same while in prison.’

Adults aged 18–44 in the general community (65%) were about 1.5 times more likely than prison entrants (42%) and prison dischargees (41%) of the same age to rate their health as very good or excellent.

First Nations dischargees were more likely to rate their physical health as very good or excellent (45%) than non-Indigenous dischargees (37%).

Nearly half (48%) of prison dischargees expected to be homeless on release from prison, with 45% planning to sleep in short term or emergency accommodation and 2.8% expected to sleep rough. About half (52%) of prison dischargees had their own stable accommodation arranged.

There are more than 62,000 receptions into, and releases out of, Australia’s prisons each year.

 How the information in the report was collected: Information was gathered from 73 of 87 prisons in scope for the survey across Australia (excluding Victoria) for the 2022 National Prisoner Health Data Collection. Data were collected from 371 people entering prison during a 2-week period, and 431 who were due to be released during the data collection period or in the following 4 weeks. Information was also collected about 4,500 people who visited the prison health clinic and another 7,100 people who received medications while in prison.

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