A study has found that prisoners who are released recently face greater death risk, with more than one a day dying within a year of release.
Dr Stuart Kinner of the Burnet Institute's Centre for Population Health and co-authors analysed two independent, state-based record linkage studies from Western Australia and New South Wales to derive estimates of death rates for ex-prisoners.
AdvertisementThey estimated that in 2007-08, between 380 and 527 ex-prisoners died within one year of release and, of those, up to 30 per cent died in their first four weeks out of jail.
"Although drug overdose is a leading cause of death for recently released prisoners, more than 50 per cent of deaths in this study were not drug-related," Dr Kinner said.
"These findings underscore the importance of moving beyond simplistic messages about reduced drug tolerance and overdose risk in the first few weeks of release, to build a more sophisticated, evidence-based approach to reducing mortality among ex-prisoners from multiple preventable causes over at least the first year after release."
The annual number of deaths among recently released prisoners was far greater than the annual number of deaths in custody, he said.
"There is an urgent need to establish a national system for routine monitoring of ex-prisoner mortality and to continue the duty of care beyond the prison walls for this vulnerable population."
In an accompanying Editor's Choice, MJA Editor Dr Annette Katelaris cited research showing that there are an estimated 50,000 prisoners released each year and a further 385,000 ex-prisoners living in the community. Therefore, ex-prisoner health had significant repercussions for the health system.
"As Kinner and colleagues discuss, there are evidence-based programs available that may reduce drug-related deaths, yet they are not being widely implemented," Dr Katelaris said.
"Reducing deaths from non-drug-related causes is more complex. Interventions that target mental illness, chronic disease and injury prevention will be required as part of the solution.
"Programs that smooth the reintegration of prisoners into society are urgently required."
The Medical Journal of Australia is a publication of the Australian Medical Association.