The health of many prisoners who have been unemployed or homeless before being incarcerated improves in jail, according to a new report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW).
The report, ‘The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018’, includes information gathered from people through the use of questionnaires over a two-week period in 62 adult prisons across Australia (except NSW).
“Many adults entering prison came from disadvantaged backgrounds, with just over half of those surveyed reporting that they were unemployed and one in three homeless in the 30 days prior to being incarcerated,” AIHW spokesperson Anna Ritson said.
“Education levels were also very low, with one-third of prison entrants [only] having completed Year 9 or under at school. By comparison, only 6.5 per cent of Australian adults fail to complete Year 10.
However, most people leaving prison were happy with the healthcare they had received, with almost nine in 10 reporting that their physical health had improved or stayed the same while in prison.
“For some people from disadvantaged backgrounds, prison can provide better access to healthcare and health professionals than they experienced in the community,” Ms Ritson said.
“Prison clinics can greatly help [inmates] take steps to improve their health, such as quitting smoking or getting help with mental health issues.
“However, these health improvements can be lost after people are released, especially if healthcare and support services are not available during their transition to and within the community.”
Fewer than one in four (22 per cent) people leaving prison had organised paid employment that would begin within two weeks of release.
Mental health conditions among people in prison were common, with 40 per cent of prison entrants and 37 per cent of those leaving prison reporting a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition, including alcohol and other drug use disorders.
The report presents the results of the fifth National Prisoner Health Data Collection, which is the main source of data about the health and wellbeing of people in prison in Australia. It presents information about the health experiences of people throughout the prison cycle.