Prisoners with ID have worse health outcomes than their non-disabled peers

By Shannon Dias, MPH, MIPH, BDS
Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability (QCIDD), School of Medicine, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

People with intellectual disability (ID) in the general population and people in prison experience unrecognized medical conditions and inadequate disease prevention. Among prisoners, those with ID may be particularly disadvantaged. The aim of this study was to identify demographic, health and health-related characteristics of adult prisoners who screened positive for ID.

What did you do in your research?
We collected data from seven prisons (1325 prisoners) in Queensland, Australia, between 2008 and 2010. Participants were adult prisoners within 6 weeks of release from custody. We identified ID using a pragmatic screening tool. Prisoners who scored <85 on the Hayes Ability Screening Index and either (a) reported having attended a special school, or (b) reported having been diagnosed with an ID, were considered to have screened positive for ID. We then analyzed and compared the characteristics of participants who screened positive and negative for ID.

What did you find out?
Screening positive for ID was associated with younger age, identifying as Indigenous (original inhabitants of the Australian continent and nearby islands) and having lower educational achievement. Prisoners who screened positive for ID were more likely to have been diagnosed with medical conditions such as heart disease and hearing problems. They were also less likely to have received preventive care interventions such as testing for hepatitis A infection and immunization for tuberculosis. Lastly, prisoners with possible ID were more likely to be obese.

What are the take-home messages?
Adult prisoners who screen positive for ID have worse health outcomes than their non-disabled peers. An improved understanding of physical health characteristics prior to release can direct treatment and support pathways out of the criminal justice system and inform transitional planning of health services for this profoundly disadvantaged group.

To learn more about these findings contact Shannon Dias.

Full Journal Article
Dias, S., Ware, R.S., Kinner, S.A., & Lennox, N.G. (2013). Physical health outcomes in prisoners with intellectual disability: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 57(12), 1191–1196.