Prisoners have some of the worst health outcomes of any population group and are one of the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in Australia. Each year, more than 40,000 people cycle through Australian prisons, with the number of ex-prisoners in the community estimated to be around 400,000. Due to lack of engagement with health services, many of these individuals enter the criminal justice system with pre-existing health conditions and most go undetected or untreated during incarceration. Research has consistently shown rates of mental illness, alcohol, tobacco and other drug use and bloodborne viruses to be much higher among prisoners than in the general population.
The Australian Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Offender Health was funded by the NHMRC in 2013. Prior to this CRE, there was no national (or international) centre focused on offender health, despite the large discrepancies that exist between the overall health of prisoners and those in the general population. The CRE is committed to the conduct of infectious diseases and mental health research that is innovative, policy-relevant and culturally appropriate so that improved health outcomes are achieved for those in contact with the criminal justice system.
The CRE prioritises two overall research themes – mental health and infectious diseases – both are in line with national priority areas and reflect the burden of diseases posed by these areas on the offender population. The two primary themes fall under three research strands: surveillance and monitoring, treatment interventions and evaluation. Currently, there are 11 projects funded by the Centre and range from a RCT pilot study of omega-3 with violent offenders to assessing health care for prisoners using economic evaluation techniques, to a project building the infrastructure for antiviral treatment of chronic hepatitis C in prisoners.
The CRE in Offender Health is funded until the end of 2018. By this time, the Centre, through the successful completion of the funded projects, hopes to have achieved improved health outcomes for the in contact with the criminal justice system and enhanced the capacity of the offender health workforce by hosting relevant seminars and workshops and the provision of PhD scholarships, and improved engagement with key stakeholders within the area.
Over the course of the CRE in Offender Health, there are four primary aims:
- To generate new knowledge that leads to improved infectious disease and mental health outcomes for those who come into contact with the criminal justice system.
- To ensure the translation and transferability of research outcomes into health policy/practice via stakeholder collaborations and national networks, citizen’s juries and economic analyses.
- To develop and enhance the offender health workforce through the provision of training, support for post graduate, early career and Indigenous researchers.
- To facilitate collaboration between investigators from a broad range of disciplines and institutions.
The CRE in Offender Health is led by 10 Chief Investigators:
- Professor Tony Butler, Professor John Kaldor and Professor Andrew Lloyd (Kirby Institute)
- Associate Professor Georgina Chambers, Associate Professor Kimberlie Dean and Professor Phillip Mitchell (UNSW)
- Professor David Greenberg (JH&FMHN)
- Dr Jill Guthrie (NCIS)
- Associate Professor Peter Schofield (HNE Health /University of Newcastle)
- James Ward (SAHMRI)
There are four external partner organisations on the CRE in Offender Health:
- Australian National University – Australian Capital Territory
- Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network – New South Wales
- South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI)
- University of Newcastle – New South Wales