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Keywords:

  • Prisoners;
  • Indigenous Australians

Abstract

Objective: Compare the self-reported physical and mental health of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal prisoners in New South Wales (NSW).

Design: Cross-sectional random sample.

Setting: Twenty-nine correctional centres (27 male and two female) in NSW.

Participants: 747 men (227 Aboriginal) and 167 women (29 Aboriginal) in full-time custody.

Methods: Face to-face interviews were used to record self-reported health status.

Results: Aboriginal prisoners differed significantly from non-Aboriginal inmates in several socio-demographic and criminographic factors. However, few differences were observed in health status between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal men and women. After adjusting for age, Aboriginal men were more likely to report high blood pressure and diabetes. No differences were found in chronic health conditions in the female group. Aboriginal men had higher SF-36 scores than non-Aboriginal men on general health, vitality, and mental health. Aboriginal women had lower scores than non-Aboriginal women on social functioning and role-emotional but scored higher on the role-physical dimension.

Aboriginal inmates were more likely to report seeing certain health professionals (doctors, dentists, drug and alcohol counsellors, and optometrists) in prison compared with the community.

Conclusions: The health of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal prisoners is remarkably similar in this population group. Few differences were observed in self-reported chronic health conditions. Aboriginal prisoners report using prison health services more while in prison compared with the community. This highlights that for many, prison is a rare opportunity to contact health services.