Author Nadine Smith and Lily Trimboli
Published May 2010
Report Type Crime and Justice Bulletin No. 140
Subject Drugs and Drug Courts; Mental health; Prisons and prisoners; Recidivism / Re-offending
Keywords mental health, substance disorders, comorbidity, prisoners, re-offending

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To examine whether released prisoners with mental health disorders (including substance, non-substance, and comorbid substance and non-substance disorders) are at increased risk of re-offending when compared with released prisoners without mental health disorders.


Data for 1,208 NSW prisoners who participated in the 2001 Mental Health Survey (conducted by NSW Justice Health) were linked to the NSW re-offending database to track their criminal history for five years prior to entering prison and 24 months following their exit from prison. Mental health diagnoses were obtained using the Composite International Diagnostic Interview and a number of other mental health screening measures. To control for demographic and prior offending differences between mental health groups, weighted re-offending rates for each of the mental health groups (substance only, non-substance only, comorbid substance and non-substance, and no disorders) were calculated.


Within 24 months of their release from prison, 65 per cent of the total sample had re-offended, and their rate of re-offending was related to their mental health disorder/s. The weighted rate of re-offending was greater in prisoners who had comorbid substance and non-substance mental health disorders (67%) compared with prisoners who had: only a substance disorder (55%), a non-substance mental health disorder (49%), and no mental health disorders (51%).


These results suggest that an effective way of reducing re-offending is to treat prisoners who have comorbid substance and non-substance mental health disorders. Investing in evidence-based programs and court or prison alternatives could result in numerous benefits for both the community and the individual offender.

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