School of Population Health

Risky alcohol consumption prior to incarceration: A cross-sectional study of drinking patterns among Australian prison entrants

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“As a proud Aboriginal man with ancestors from Tubba-Gah mob, Wiradjuri nation, I chose this project because I have an interest in improving Indigenous health and overrepresentation in prison”, says Milo Darmopil-Kerslake, final-year medical student at UNSW.

Milo, along with Prof Tony Butler, head of the Justice Health Research Program at the School of Population Health, and Professor Robyn Richmond, has recently published a research paper in Drug and Alcohol Review, studying drinking patterns among Australian prison entrants.

Consecutive cross-sectional data were collected from prisoners residing in 19 correctional facilities in six Australian states and territories as part of the National Prison Entrants’ Bloodborne Virus and Risk Behaviour Survey (NPEBBVS) report. In 2016, 19 correctional facilities from six out of eight Australian states and territories, not including New South Wales and Western Australia, participated in the survey. The sample for the study consisted of 389 prisoners (339 men, 50 women).
Milo found that risky alcohol consumption is common among prisoners across Australia, particularly in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and is known to be associated with adverse health outcomes and re‐offending, suggesting a need for alcohol interventions targeting prisoners.

Milo wants to focus on improving the health conditions and outcomes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are incarcerated. “Something that I found surprising was that violent crimes such as murder are a small minority. Instead, the majority of prisoners are serving short terms for minor crimes, often on a background of socioeconomic disadvantage, mental illness or intergenerational trauma.  I believe that issues of recidivism and Indigenous incarceration are exacerbated by our current emphasis on punishment. I feel strongly that it is in the best interest of prisoners, as well as the communities that they will soon return to, that prisoners leave prison having been genuinely rehabilitated, rather than stigmatised and traumatised.”

As Milo concludes, “Our findings suggest that addressing risky alcohol consumption may be an important component of achieving effective rehabilitation. Therefore there is a clear need for further research, such as the work undertaken by Dr Michael Doyle, into the effectiveness of prison-based and/or post-release interventions which aim to reduce alcohol and other substance use”.

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