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Anne Rahilly
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People with a history of mental disorder experience particularly poor outcomes following release from prison, a new Australian study has found.

In one of the largest and most comprehensive studies ever conducted, University of Melbourne researchers and interstate collaborators analysed the severity and complexity of the health-related needs of former prisoners.

Lead researcher Associate Professor Stuart Kinner said that people released from prison often struggle to reintegrate into society.

“Many ex-prisoners face unstable housing, unemployment, on-going mental health problems and relapse to injecting drug use or risky drinking,” he said.

“We found that many of these poor outcomes were more common in ex-prisoners with a history of mental disorder.”

1,324 adults imprisoned in Queensland were interviewed about their mental state and a range of health-related outcomes within six weeks of their expected release from prison, and then one, three and six months after they returned to the community.

“We wanted to find out how mental disorder affects health and social outcomes for people after their release from prison,” said Associate Professor Stuart Kinner, who worked alongside colleagues from Queensland and NSW.

Prisoners are characterised by a high burden of mental disorder and many also have a history of disadvantage including poor education, unemployment and substance misuse.

Despite this, very little is known about what happens to people after they leave prison and return to the community.

The findings, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, add to a growing body of evidence showing poor health and social outcomes for ex-prisoners.

According to Associate Professor Kinner, “this is not about prisoners – this is about vulnerable members of our community. Assisting people to transition from prison to the community – particularly those experiencing mental health problems – is in the best interests of everyone.”

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