This is the first Australian study to measure the prevalence of mental disorder among offenders nationally, using information provided by 690 police detainees who participated in the Australian Institute of Criminology’s Drug Use Monitoring in Australia program. Around half reported having been diagnosed with a mental disorder in the past.
Many criminal justice practitioners have observed that offenders experience poor mental health. While international studies have found mental health to be poorer among prisoners than in the general population, less information is available either about offenders who are not imprisoned or alleged offenders detained by police. The mental health of offenders is of key policy interest from both health service and crime prevention perspectives.
The study was also the first to use the Corrections Mental Health Screen (CMHS), an instrument validated for gender-specific screening, on an Australian offender population. Results suggest that almost half of detainees may have a diagnosable mental disorder at the time of arrest, including 42 percent of women and 28 percent of men with no previous diagnosis. In the routine screening of police detainees as they enter the criminal justice system, the CMHS could be used to identify for the first time those who would benefit from psychological assessment and appropriate intervention.