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Drugs, Mental Illness May Hike Risk of Recidivism

A new Australian study has found that ex-prisoners with a history of risky drug use, mental illness or poverty are more likely to end up back behind bars.

On the flip side, those who are obese, are chronically ill, or have attempted suicide are more likely to remain in the community, according to the new study, which was published in Springer’s journal Health & Justice.

Led by Emma Thomas, M.Sc., of the University of Melbourne in Australia,  the study included an analysis of interviews with 1,322 adult prisoners from seven prisons in Queensland in Australia before and after their release.

The researcher found that participants who reported risky use of cannabis, amphetamines or opioids prior to being incarcerated or who had committed a drug-related crime were at a higher risk of returning to prison.

These drug-related issues often go hand in hand with other health factors to compound the likelihood of further jail time, according to the researcher. Those factors include whether the prisoner has an intellectual disability, has a history of mental illness, or has been diagnosed with a sexually transmitted disease.

People who lived below the poverty level before being incarcerated and those who did not rate the importance of their physical health highly were also more likely to end up back in prison, the study found.

Conversely, the study found that ex-prisoners who are obese, suffer from various chronic diseases, or have had a history of self-harm or suicidal behavior are less likely to return to custody. This is also true of those who lead a sedentary lifestyle, the researcher notes.

According to Thomas, this might be in part because those with chronic ill health issues are less capable of engaging in criminal activity.

The study’s findings point to the importance of addressing the health-related needs of people recently released from prison, Thomas said.

“Many of the factors identified are easily measurable prior to release from prison, and could inform improvements to transitional planning without the need for additional, in-depth assessment,” she concluded.

“Most of these predictors are also modifiable and could potentially serve as targets for re-entry interventions.”

Source: Springer

Drugs, Mental Illness May Hike Risk of Recidivism

Janice Wood

Janice Wood is a long-time writer and editor who began working at a daily newspaper before graduating from college. She has worked at a variety of newspapers, magazines and websites, covering everything from aviation to finance to healthcare.

APA Reference
Wood, J. (2018). Drugs, Mental Illness May Hike Risk of Recidivism. Psych Central. Retrieved on September 26, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 31 May 2015)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
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