The physical health status of young Australian offenders

Tony Butler, Josephine M. Belcher, Una Champion, Dianna Kenny, Mark Allerton, Michael Fasher

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review


    Aims: To describe the socio-economic background and physical health status of young offenders in custody in New South Wales (Australia). Design: Cross-sectional survey of all young offenders held at nine juvenile detention centres across New South Wales (NSW) (eight male and one female) between January and March 2003. Methods: Demographic and health information was collected by nurse interviewers and psychologists using a face-to-face interview. Blood and urine samples were collected to screen for blood-borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. Results: The final sample comprised 242 young people (223 males and 19 females). Overall, 90% of those assessed rated their general health as 'excellent', 'very good' or 'good'. Sixty-nine (30%) young offenders reported that they had been previously diagnosed with asthma. Two young women reported a past diagnosis of diabetes with the results of the random blood glucose testing indicating that a further six young people required testing for possible diabetes. None of those tested were positive for HIV, 9% tested positive for hepatitis C antibody, and 11% tested positive for hepatitis B core-antibody. Conclusions: Our findings indicate that young offenders in New South Wales have backgrounds characterised by extreme disadvantage (poor educational attainment, unemployment, and care placements) and poor physical health. Parental incarceration was common to 43% of the sample. Our findings reinforce the concept that for marginalised groups, contact with the criminal justice system represents an important opportunity to detect illness, initiate treatment, and promote contact with health services.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)73-80
    Number of pages8
    JournalAustralian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health
    Issue number1
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2008


    • Adolescent
    • Australia
    • Blood-borne pathogens
    • Health status
    • Prisoners

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