Young ex-prisoners at high risk of mortality

24 Sep 2015

Alarming research from The University of Queensland has found young ex-prisoners are at much higher risk of early death than their peers in the community.

Lead author, Dr Kate van Dooren from UQ’s Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability said the majority of the deaths were preventable and transitional services for ex-prisoners should pay close attention to the group.

“We are missing the opportunity to help young people who have experienced prison to transition in a way that is healthy and that supports them to exit the revolving door of prison,” Dr van Dooren said.

The study, conducted together with Associate Professor Stuart Kinner from the University of Melbourne, monitored 42,015 young and older ex-prisoners for 365 days from release from adult prisons in Queensland, Australia from 1994 to 2007.

“It was found young ex-prisoners experienced a higher risk of death compared to their peers in the community and this risk was much greater than it was for older ex-prisoners,” Dr van Dooren said.

“Given that the vast majority of deaths were due to drug-related causes or suicide, our findings highlight the importance of transitional programs for young prisoners and ex-prisoners focusing on risky substance use and mental illness.

“Evidence suggests that, to be most effective, these programs should commence before release from prison, and continue following release.

“Given the very high occurrence of mental illness in this population, programs designed to improve mental health literacy and adherence to psychiatric medications may also prove beneficial, although rigorous evaluation studies are urgently needed,” she said.

Young women are particularly at risk, although the smallest proportion of this group, they experienced 20 times greater risk of death compared to their general population peers.

“Young women in prison are an incredibly marginalised and vulnerable group, and many have experienced trauma and abuse,” Dr van Dooren said.

The study was published today in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health.

Media: Brian Mallon, Communication Officer, School of Medicine, 0403621109, 07 3365 5254