At any one time almost 40,000 individuals are detained in the prison system in Australia, with many more cycling through prison each year. Prisoners are one of the most disadvantaged and stigmatised groups in the community and endure some of the worst health conditions in society.

In Australia in 2014, two in three prisoners had used illicit drugs in the year prior to incarceration, two in five drank alcohol at risky levels and one in three had a long-term health condition or disability.

The majority of people in prison return to the broader society, so particularly in regards to infectious diseases, there are not only implications for the prisoners themselves, but also for the health of the general community.

Our research at the Kirby Institute intersects with the justice system and prisoners in a number of ways. We monitor and analyse trends in blood-borne viruses and STIs and produce the National Prison Entrants’ Bloodborne Virus and Risk Behaviour Survey. Our SToP-C trial is the first treatment-as-prevention study for hepatitis C worldwide and is being conducted in maximum security prisons in NSW.

Our research in this area also focuses on developing interventions and improving our understanding of the health factors that may lead to someone offending, such as examining the role traumatic brain injury may play in offending behaviour. The REINVESt trial targets mean with histories of violence who are highly impulsive, and Beyond Violence is an intervention for women perpetrators of violence.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overrepresented in Australian prisons and we have a strong commitment to building Indigenous research capacity in this area and improving health and justice outcomes for this group.

We play a lead role in the establishment of an NHMRC Centre of Research Excellence (CRE) in Offender Health. The CRE brings together a team of internationally recognised researchers from across Australia who specialise in various aspects of offender health in the areas of mental health and infectious diseases.

Our programs that work in this area


Prisoners researchers     Prisoners projects