The 2019 Conference theme was: Justice health is public health
The 2019 Conference focused on justice health being about more than just prisons. About 60% of adults in the corrective services system, and more than 80% of those in youth justice are supervised in the community, and almost all of those held in prison or detention are released back into the community. The health issues of people involved in the criminal justice system therefore are those of the community. With higher rates of mental illness, behavioural problems, disability, risky alcohol consumption, tobacco smoking, illicit drug use, chronic disease and communicable disease than people in the general community, this is a group with significant and complex health needs. Public health is about preventing ill-health through addressing underlying issues and inequities which impact on people’s health. The World Health Organization has promoted, and PHAA endorses, the concept that “Prisoner Health is Public Health”.
The purpose of the Conference was to once again highlight the health needs of people involved in the criminal justice system which are often viewed as separate from, or unrelated to, the health of the general community. Further, the social determinants of health share many similarities with the determinants of crime. Involvement with the criminal justice system has a huge impact on the community in terms of breaking up families, economic and financial impacts, and health outcomes. Thus the wider impacts are often overlooked when the focus is on punishment. With the massive over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system this has particularly resonance with the Indigenous peoples in Australia.
Prisons and detention centres present a dilemma for the community in terms of investing in the health and wellbeing of the group while at the same time meeting the community’s ‘perceived’ expectation of punishment. Health and well-being gains for individuals in prison or detention and those who have contact with the justice system in the community are health gains for us all, while missed opportunities adversely affect the broader community.
It is pertinent to ask whether the public health successes enjoyed in other areas (safer roads, gun control etc.) can be similarly applied to offending and the justice sector.
The Conference had high quality national experts presenting various aspects of justice health, it provided a forum for sharing a range of evidence, findings and ideas in justice health, as well as for making recommendations for the way forward.
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