Objective: To estimate the overall and cause specific mortality of Aboriginal offenders in New South Wales (NSW), Australia.
Methods: The study cohort consisted of all Aboriginal men and women aged 18 years and older who had experienced full-time imprisonment in NSW between 1 January 1988 and 31 December 2002. Their data were linked probabilistically to the Australian National Death Index to obtain information on death. Standardised mortality ratios were calculated for all causes of death and adjusted for age, sex, and calendar year.
Results: The cohort comprised 7,980 men and 1,373 women with 75,801 person years of observation. During a median follow-up period of 8.3 years, 485 men and 73 women died, giving an overall mortality rate of 733 and 755 deaths per 100,000 person-years. The risk of death in men was 4.8 (95% CI: 4.4–5.3) times and among women 12.6 (95% CI: 10.0–15.8) times that of the NSW residents, with a markedly elevated risk for almost all conditions. The leading cause of death was cardiovascular disease in men (112 deaths, 23%) and mental and behavioural disorders (17 deaths, 23%) in women. The risk of death was greatest following release from prison.
Conclusions and Implications: High mortality rates for cardiovascular disease, a preventable and treatable condition, were seen among Aboriginal offenders. Prison has an important role to play in screening marginalised populations for a range of health conditions. This is particularly true for Indigenous offenders.