Call for action on deaths after prison release

There’s an urgent need for Australia to adopt a national monitoring system on the number of people who die shortly after being released from prison.

According to Professor Stuart Kinner from the Griffith Criminology Institute and Menzies Health Institute Queensland, whose study was published this month in sciencejournal PLOS One, while there’s a federally funded, national monitoring system for deaths in custody, the number of deaths soon after release is considerably higher.

Professor Stuart Kinner
Professor Stuart Kinner.

“We know people released from prison are at increased risk of death, and most of these deaths are due to preventable causes including drug overdose, suicide and injury’’ Professor Kinner said.

“However, no country has established a system for routine monitoring of mortality in this population.”

The study evaluated a system for monitoring of deaths (using routinely collected unemployment benefits data) after prison release in Australia, and estimated the number of deaths annually within 28 and 365 days of release, from 2000 to 2013.

Although the system did not identify all deaths after release from prison, it did pick up the majority.

Using these data, the researchers estimated there was an average of 32 deaths each year within 28 days of release from prison, and 188 deaths each year within a year of release from prison.

By contrast, the most recent report from Australia’s National Deaths in Custody Program identified 53 deaths in prison in 2012-13, and most of these deaths were due to natural causes.

According to Professor Kinner more than 50,000 people are released from prison in Australia each year, and more than a quarter of these are Indigenous.

“Indigenous people are over-represented in our prisons by a factor of 13, and improving the health outcomes for these vulnerable Australians is an important part of closing the gap in Indigenous life expectancy.”

The study showed that routine monitoring of deaths after release from prison in Australia is both feasible and inexpensive, and according to Professor Kinner, should be a high priority for governments.

“Routine monitoring of deaths in ex-prisoners is needed to galvanise support for preventive efforts, and to evaluate their effectiveness.”

“What gets counted gets done”.