Mortality rates are higher among recently released Australian prisoners, according to new study. It warns that ex-prisoners are among the most at-risk segment in the community.
The study 'Counting the cost: estimating the number of deaths among recently released prisoners in Australia' has been published in the Medical Journal of Australia.
"What we know is that when [ex-prisoners] return to the community, their health often returns quite quickly to being as bad as—or worse—than it was before incarceration ... we see very poor health outcomes in this group," says Senior Research Fellow in the Centre for Population Health and lead author of the paper Dr Stuart Kinner
According to the National Deaths in Custody Program, the number of prisoner deaths recorded in 2007 was 45.
The paper shows mortality rates among recently released prisoners to be considerably higher than the annual number of deaths in custody, with a disproportionate number dying in the first four weeks.
"Overall we estimated that around 450 people would have died within a year of release from custody among those released in 2007-08 financial year," Dr Kinner says.
The study identifies the need to "develop and implement evidence-based strategies to reduce drug-related deaths among ex-prisoners". It suggests opiate substitution therapy and also the provision of naloxone for peer administration.
A clinical trial of naloxone provision to at-risk prisoners upon release has been proposed, but not yet conducted.
Although drug overdose was shown to be a leading cause of death for recently released prisoners, more than 50 per cent of deaths in the study were not drug-related and members of the Western Australia cohort were found to be more likely to die of natural causes.
Obtained from two independent state-based record-linkage studies, the study relied on research already completed in WA and in New South Wales.
The figures were calculated using Crude Mortality Rates (CMR's) for ex-prisoners to make a national estimate of the number and characteristics of people released from prison in 2007-08.
Dr Kinner says the first quality study of this sort in Australia was undertaken in WA.
Although the figures were two completely independent estimates, according to Dr Kinner the two states' estimates came out as similar.
He says now that the problem has been identified, one of the big challenges is that corrections are a state based function.
"There is no national oversight of any significance, and therefore there's very little that happens on a national level.
"One very promising thing that is happening is a new National Minimum Data Set (NMDS) for prisoner health. The [current] NMDS does report deaths in prisoners each year, but at this stage it's not possible to report deaths in ex-prisoners."
However, Dr Kinner says that discussions with the federal government have started and the ways to report on these deaths are still being explored.