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High rates of illness in prisons, study shows

Report finds one in three prisoners have experienced mental illness.

Australia's prisoners have high levels of mental and physical health issues, and high numbers engage in risky health behaviours, according to a new national snapshot. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report found that one third of prison entrants in 2010 had been told at some point in their lives that they had a mental health illness.

During the two week period the Prisoner Health Census was conducted, which the AIHW used for its analysis, almost one in 10 prisoners visited the clinic for a psychological or mental health issue, and one in five were taking medications for mental health issues. Prison entrants also reported a history of risky health behaviours. Four in five were smokers, while more than half reported drinking alcohol at risky levels. Two-thirds said they had used illicit drugs in the previous 12 months, and over half had injected drugs at some time in their life.

The physical health of prisoners was similarly highlighted as a concern. Over a quarter had a chronic health condition such as asthma, arthritis, cardiovascular disease or diabetes, and a further 35 per cent had tested positive to hepatitis C. There were almost 29,000 prisoners in custody in Australia at June 30 last year. The National Prisoner Health Census did not include prison entrants in NSW and Victoria, although those states would participate in future, the AIHW said.

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