For many offenders, going to prison is the first time in their lives they are seen by health professionals.
When they enter the prison system, offenders receive a health screening check that looks for chronic diseases such as diabetes, and communicable diseases such as hepatitis C. For more information on these diseases and their treatment, refer to Blood borne infections below.
Health care is provided to all prisoners statewide by a team of doctors, nurses, mental health and addiction specialists, and visiting health specialists including psychiatrists, dentists and allied health specialists.
Education and health awareness programs are also available to prisoners to encourage them to improve their health skills and live healthier lives when they are released.
While in custody, prisoners receive the same level of health care the general public would receive under the public health system.
The prison health service is one of the biggest single notifiers of hepatitis in Western Australia. This is because of the high number of offenders who take part in injecting drug use before they are sent to prison.
For many offenders, prison is the first time they have had the opportunity to be screened for hepatitis and, many who test positive have no idea they are carrying the disease.
The Department runs a number of education and health programs for offenders including the HIP HOP (Health in Prisons, Health Outta Prisons) program which looks at issues that increase the risk of contracting and spreading blood-borne viruses including unprotected sex, unclean tattooing and needle sharing.
The Department also works to reduce the spread of blood-borne viruses such as hepatitis C by making condoms and dental dams available free to prisoners. The condoms are provided via vending machines and not only help reduce the spread of infections and blood-borne viruses among prisoners, but also to reduce the spread of these diseases when offenders are released back into the community.
Exit kits which include public health information and condoms are also given to prisoners when they are released.
Prisoners with a mental illness are managed as they would be in the public health system, with the Department using a process of assessment, diagnosis and ongoing treatment.
All prisons and detention centres provide a mental health service made up of a highly-specialised team of mental health nurses, addiction specialists and consultant forensic psychiatrists.
Crisis care units are provided at Bandyup Women's Prison, Casuarina and Hakea prisons and are staffed 7-days-a-week by mental health specialists.
The mental health team offers the following services:
- identifying prisoners with a mental illness, liaising with agencies who have cared for those prisoners in the past and continuing appropriate treatment before discharging the prisoner into community care when they are released
- assessing all prisoners who are referred for inappropriate behaviour. If a mental illness is detected, then they are treated as above
- assessing prisoners for the Courts and the Prisoners Review Board to help them make decisions about appropriate sentences or parole conditions
- providing mental health education to prisoners
- liaising with other health professionals, including working closely with the Frankland Unit at Graylands Hospital.
For more information about mental health treatment options, refer to WA Mental Health.
Offender drug management
The Department of Corrective Services has a zero-tolerance approach to drug use but recognises some offenders will continue to use drugs. Therefore, the Department aims to reduce the risks associated with drug use by providing a range of initiatives to reduce the supply of, demand for and harms caused by drug use in prison.
The Department offers a range of drug and alcohol treatment programs to offenders at prisons around the state.
However, programs are just one of a number of interventions, including education and training, counselling, re-entry services and structured days. These are designed to help prisoners understand why they offended and reduce the likelihood of them reoffending.
The Department has release its drug and alcohol strategy and action plan aimed at reducing alcohol and drug use, associated harm, anti-social behaviour and criminal behaviour by offenders. (see More Information below)
Other drug-related support for offenders includes:
- drug treatment units
- drug-free living units
- brief intervention support
- significant expansion of new and existing offender programs in prison and in the community
- health interventions
- a range of drug and alcohol withdrawal treatments. For more information, refer to the Drug and Alcohol Office.
All indoor areas in prisons, including cells, will soon be smoke free. Support for prisoners who want to quit smoking includes brief intervention (Fresh Start), education and nicotine replacement therapy (NRT).
Page last updated: 18-Oct-2013