World-first study boosts healthcare for ex-prisoners

Inside a prison
Griffith University's Professor Stuart Kinner says investing in transitional support for ex-prisoners is likely to be good value for money

A simple booklet and just four phone calls are enough to help ex-prisoners — who often have complex and treatable health problems — access the healthcare they need.

Professor Stuart Kinner from the Griffith Criminology Institute and Menzies Health Institute Queensland is the lead investigator on a world-first research study published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

The randomised controlled trial, funded by a $1.8 million grant from National Health and Medical Research Council, involved 1325 men and women who had recently been released from prisons in Queensland.

“Australia’s prison population is growing rapidly and the annual cost to the taxpayer now exceeds $3 billion per annum,” Professor Kinner said.

“With more and more people churning through prisons on short sentences, the number of people being released from prison each year is growing even faster.”

According to Professor Kinner, despite health improvements in prisons the health of ex-prisoners is often very poor. Rates of mental illness, substance dependence, chronic and infectious disease are high, and the risk of preventable death is dramatically elevated.

“The reasons for this are complex, but ensuring access to appropriate healthcare in the community is a key part of the solution” Professor Kinner said.

“This isn’t just a problem for ex-prisoners. The impacts on the families and communities to which these individuals return can be profound. Prisoner health really is public health.”

Participants in the trial were provided with a personalised booklet — called a Health Passport — and received up to four brief telephone calls from trained support staff in the first four weeks after release.

“We found that this brief, low-intensity case management intervention increased the likelihood of people seeing a GP and accessing mental healthcare for at least six months post-release,” Professor Kinner said.

He added that investing in transitional support for ex-prisoners is likely to be good value for money.

“We now have very strong evidence that even low-cost interventions can make a difference in the lives of people recently released from prison,” Professor Kinner said.

“Investing in evidence-based programs to support people transitioning from prison to the community can provide enormous returns in terms of public health, public safety and the public purse.”