Prisoners with ID have unrecognized health care needs

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 disabilities (ID) in the general population and people in prison experience unrecognized medical conditions and inadequate disease prevention. Prisoners with ID may be particularly disadvantaged.

What did you do in your research?
The aim of this study was to identify demographic, health, and health-related characteristics of adult prisoners who screened positive for ID. We interviewed participants in seven prisons in Queensland, Australia. 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 ID, were considered to have screened positive for ID. We 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 (Australians) and 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, were less likely to have received preventive care interventions such as testing for hepatitis A infection, and immunization for tuberculosis. Prisoners with possible ID were more likely to be obese.

What are the take-home messages?
Prisoners with ID are an extremely vulnerable group with unrecognized medical conditions and inadequate disease prevention. The high percentage of prisoners, who screened positive for ID, and its association with poor health among prisoners, means there is a strong case for screening for ID on prison reception, to permit early detection and better management of the health care needs of this vulnerable population.

To learn more about these findings contact
Shannon Dias.

Full Journal Article
Dias, S., Ware, R.S., Kinner, S.A. and Lennox, G. (2012). Physical health outcomes in prisoners with intellectual disability: a cross-sectional study. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, in press. Epub ahead of print.