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Prisoners have some of the worst health outcomes of any population group and are one of the most marginalised and stigmatised groups in Australia.  Each year more than 50,000 people cycle through Australian prisons, with the number of ex-prisoners in the community estimated to be around 400,000 nationally.  Due to lack of engagement with health services, many of these individuals enter the criminal justice system with pre-existing health conditions and most go undetected or untreated during incarceration.  Epidemiological studies have consistently shown rates of mental illness and bloodborne viral infections (e.g. hepatitis C and hepatitis B) to be much higher among prisoners than in the general population.  In addition to this, many engage in health risk behaviours such as injecting drug use, tobacco and other drug use at high levels.  Prisoners also show increased mortality particularly from drug overdose, suicide and violence.

The Australian Centre for Research Excellence (CRE) in Offender Health was funded by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council in 2013.  Prior to this CRE, there was no national (or international) centre focused on offender health, despite the large discrepancies that exist between the overall health of prisoners and those in the general population.

The CRE in Offender Health brings together a team of internationally recognised researchers from across Australia who specialise in various aspects of offender health to advance research and policy in the area and to improve health outcomes for this population group.  The CRE prioritises two overall research themes – mental health and infectious diseases – both are in line with national priority areas and reflect the burden of diseases posed by these areas on the offender population.  The two primary themes fall under three research strands: Surveillance and monitoring, Treatment interventions and Evaluation.