Drug use among prisoners with ID is high

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Kate van Dooren, PhD
Queensland Centre for Intellectual and Developmental Disability, School of Medicine, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

People with intellectual disability (ID) are over-represented in prisons, but we know very little about their experiences. Without a better understanding of their health-related needs, it's difficult to inform programs aiming to help them to stay out of prison and live healthy lives post-release.

What did you do in your research?
We were interested in describing substance use and substance use-related harm among prisoners with ID, compared with their counterparts without ID. We analyzed data from prisons across Queensland, Australia for a total of 115 prisoners with ID. In particular, we described prevalence of drug use before, during, and after incarceration and harmful behaviors such as sharing injecting equipment.

What did you find out?
We found out that prisoners with ID have experiences of disadvantage, with pre-incarceration backgrounds characterized by unemployment, low educational attainment, and homelessness. More than 1 in 5 reported injecting drugs in prison, and more than 1 in 4 reported sharing injecting equipment during their incarceration. The most frequently reported illicit drugs used in the year prior to incarceration were cannabis, ecstasy, and methamphetamine/amphetamine. There were no statistically significant differences in prevalence of use compared with those prisoners without ID.

What are the take-home messages?
Risky drug use among prisoners with ID is high and represents an important public health concern. We need to develop transition programs that address the unique needs of prisoners and ex-prisoners with ID. Without such programs risk of re-arrest, poor health, and even mortality after release from prison is unacceptably high.

To learn more about these findings contact Kate van Dooren or visit Project Website.

Full Journal Article
Bhandari, A., van Dooren, K., Eastgate, G., Lennox, N., & Kinner, S. A. (2015). Comparison of social circumstances, substance use and substance-related harm in soon-to-be-released prisoners with and without intellectual disability. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 59(6), 571–579.