Mental health problems high in prison

ABOUT one-third of prisoners entering Australian jails have a history of mental health problems, a report has revealed.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report, The Mental Health Of Prison Entrants In Australia: 2010, showed 31% of prison entrants reported having ever been told by a doctor, nurse, psychiatrist or psychologist that they had a mental health disorder, including drug and alcohol abuse - 2.5 times higher than the general population.

Prison entrants with a history of a mental health disorder also had more extensive criminal histories-about one-third had been incarcerated five or more times in an adult prison.

This group was also more likely to report engaging in risky health behaviours such as illicit drug use, smoking and drinking alcohol at extreme levels; and half had received a head injury that resulted in a loss of consciousness or blacking out at some point in the past.

The report did not include data for New South Wales and Victoria, as they did not participate in the 2010 National Prisoner Health Census.

The Greens said the report showed Australian jails had become the "psychiatric crisis centres of the 21st century".