Mental health disorders and re-offending among NSW prisoners


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Release Date: 17 June 2010, Embargo: 10.30am

Treating prisoners who have both mental health and drug problems could help reduce the risk of re-offending, according to new research released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research and NSW Justice Health.

The researchers involved in the study followed up 1,208 NSW prisoners who participated in the 2001 Mental Health Survey (conducted by NSW Justice Health) for 24 months following their exit from prison.

After controlling for other factors (e.g. gender, age, Indigenous status, number of prior court appearances) the Bureau found no overall difference in the risk of re-offending between those with no mental health disorder and those with (a) a substance abuse disorder only or (b) a non-substance abuse disorder only.

The risk of re-offending, however, was significantly higher for prisoners with a co-morbid disorder, that is, those who had both a substance abuse disorder and a non-substance abuse disorder (e.g. anxiety, depression or a personality disorder).

After adjustment for demographic and criminal history characteristics, the rate of re-offending among prisoners who had co-morbid substance and non-substance mental health disorders was 67 per cent, compared with 55 per cent among prisoners who had only a substance disorder, 49 percent for those with a non-substance mental health disorder and 51 percent for those with no mental health disorder.

Commenting on the findings, the Director of the Bureau Don Weatherburn said they highlighted the potential value of investment in treatment as a means of reducing re-offending.

"Increased investment in treating prisoners with a co-morbid mental health disorder would not only make the community safer", he said, "it would also save money by reducing the rate of re-offending and return to prison."

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn. Ph.: 9231-9190 or 0419-494-408