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People released from prison are at higher risk of mortality from potentially preventable causes than their peers in the general population. Because most studies of this phenomenon are reliant on registry data, there is little health and behavioural information available on those at risk, hampering the development of targeted, evidence-based preventive responses. Our aim was to identify modifiable risk and protective factors for external cause and cause-specific mortality after release from prison.
We undertook a nested case–control study using data from a larger retrospective cohort study of mortality after release from prison in Queensland, Australia between 1994 and 2007. Cases were 286 individuals who had died from external causes (drug overdose, suicide, transport accidents, or violence) matched with 286 controls on sex, Indigenous status, and release date. We extracted data from detention, case-management, and prison medical records.
Factors associated with increased risk of external cause mortality included use of heroin and other opioids in the community [odds ratio (OR) = 2.20, 95% CI 1.41–3.43, p < 0.001], a prescription for antidepressants during the current prison sentence (OR = 1.94, 95% CI 1.02–3.67, p = 0.042), a history of problematic alcohol use in the community (OR = 1.54, 95% CI 1.05–2.26, p = 0.028), and having ever served two or more custodial sentences (OR = 1.51, 95% CI 1.01–2.25, p = 0.045). Being married (OR = 0.45, 95% CI 0.29–0.70, p < 0.001) was protective. Fewer predictors were associated with cause-specific mortality.
We identified several behavioural, psychosocial, and clinical markers associated with mortality from preventable causes in people released from prison. Emerging evidence points to interventions that could be targeted at those at increased risk of external cause mortality. These include treatment and harm reduction programmes (for substance use), improving transitional support programmes and continuity of care (for mental health), diversion and drug reform (for repeat incarceration) and nurturing stable relationships during incarceration. The period of imprisonment and shortly after release provides a unique opportunity to improve the long-term health of ex-prisoners and overcome the disadvantage associated with imprisonment.
A suicide cluster is defined as a higher number of observed cases occurring in space and/or time than would typically be expected. Previous research has largely focused on identifying clusters of suicides, while there has been comparatively limited research on clusters of suicide attempts. We sought to identify clusters of both types of behaviour, and having done that, identify the factors that distinguish suicide attempts inside a cluster from those that were outside a cluster.
We used data from Western Australia from 2000 to 2011. We defined suicide attempts as admissions to hospital for deliberate self-harm and suicides as deaths due to deliberate self-harm. Using an analytic strategy that accounted for the repetition of attempted suicide within a cluster, we performed spatial-temporal analysis using Poisson discrete scan statistics to detect clusters of suicide attempts and clusters of suicides. Logistic regression was then used to compare clustered attempts with non-clustered attempts to identify risk factors for an attempt being in a cluster.
We detected 350 (1%) suicide attempts occurring within seven spatial-temporal clusters and 12 (0.6%) suicides occurring within two spatial-temporal clusters. Both of the suicide clusters were located within a larger but later suicide attempt cluster. In multivariate analysis, suicide attempts by individuals who lived in areas of low socioeconomic status had higher odds of being in a cluster than those living in areas of high socioeconomic status [odds ratio (OR) = 29.1, 95% confidence interval (CI) = 6.3–135.5]. A one percentage-point increase in the proportion of people who had changed address in the last year was associated with a 60% increase in the odds of the attempt being within a cluster (OR = 1.60, 95% CI = 1.29–1.98) and a one percentage-point increase in the proportion of Indigenous people in the area was associated with a 7% increase in the suicide being within a cluster (OR = 1.07, 95% CI = 1.00–1.13). Age, sex, marital status, employment status, method of harm, remoteness, percentage of people in rented accommodation and percentage of unmarried people were not associated with the odds of being in a suicide attempt cluster.
Early identification of and responding to suicide clusters may reduce the likelihood of subsequent clusters forming. The mechanisms, however, that underlie clusters forming is poorly understood.
Understanding individual-level changes in mental health status after prison release is crucial to providing targeted and effective mental health care to ex-prisoners. We aimed to describe trajectories of psychological distress following prison discharge and compare these trajectories with mental health service use in the community.
The Kessler Psychological Distress Scale (K10) was administered to 1216 sentenced adult prisoners in Queensland, Australia, before prison release and approximately 1, 3 and 6 months after release. We used group-based trajectory modeling to identify K10 trajectories after release. Contact with community mental health services in the year following release was assessed via data linkage.
We identified five trajectory groups, representing consistently low (51.1% of the cohort), consistently moderate (29.8%), high increasing (11.6%), high declining (5.5%) and consistently very high (1.9%) psychological distress. Mood disorder, anxiety disorder, history of self-harm and risky drug use were risk factors for the high increasing, very high and high declining trajectory groups. Women were over-represented in the high increasing and high declining groups, but men were at higher risk of very high psychological distress. Within the high increasing and very high groups, 25% of participants accessed community mental health services in the first year post-release, for a median of 4.4 contact hours.
For the majority of prisoners with high to very high psychological distress, distress persists after release. However, contact with mental health services in the community appears low. Further research is required to understand barriers to mental health service access among ex-prisoners.
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