Mental Health Services in Australian Prisons

30 April 2021

Australia’s prisons have become de facto mental-health institutions for our society’s sickest and most vulnerable. Right across the country those who examine and report on the quality of this care are telling a similar, alarming story.

The current situation in Australia

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) has found that ‘Mental health conditions, particularly severe conditions, are over-represented in the prison population.

About 2 in 5 prison entrants (40%) and prison dischargees (37%) reported a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition, including alcohol and other drug use disorders.

Almost 1 in 5 (18%) prison entrants were referred to the prison mental health service after their reception assessment.

1 in 5 have a history of self-harm before entering jail; and a significant number are in severe psychological distress.’

A recent study found that ‘prison mental health services in Australia are delivered by a complex mix of government, private sector and non-government services. Services appear to be severely under-resourced when compared with the available benchmarks.

There is also a need to ensure that families/carers are included in the ongoing health care of the person in the prison.  There is also a need for the mental health care of the families/ carers to be considered by prison health services.

NMHCCF Recommendations

Amongst a number of recommendations to support mental health and those with mental health conditions in prison, the NMHCCF is calling for further development of release planning. This should includes:

  • The development of comprehensive plans that link the person back into appropriate health services within the community.
  • Information transfer of their records, ensuring availability of medications and the like.
  • Enabling and supporting links to the Primary Health Network operating in the local area of anyone being released from prison.

Download the full advoacy brief

Advocacy Brief - Mental Health Services in Australian Prisons