Prisoners’ mental and physical health

Persons with health problems are largely overrepresented in the criminal justice system. This overrepresentation is particularly pronounced in prisons. For instance, compared with the general population, adult prisoners have a two- to four-fold increased chance of major depression and experience substantially elevated levels of psychological distress. In addition, physical health problems, like hypertension, asthma and infectious diseases are relatively prevalent in prison populations.

Despite the magnitude of these health problems, knowledge on the relationship between health, imprisonment and criminal behavior is limited. One of the reasons for this is a lack of longitudinal studies following prisoners over a long time, both during and after imprisonment. In this project we will examine the course of prisoners’ mental and physical health problems prior to, during, and after their imprisonment. A central research aim is to examine the reciprocal relationship between prisoners’ health, imprisonment and criminal behavior. To address these research aims data will be used from the Prison Project, a longitudinal study on the effects of imprisonment on the further life course of prisoners and their families. This study includes – amongst others – detailed and longitudinal information on prisoners’ criminal behavior, their mental health symptoms, substance use, health care utilization, and medication use.

Dr. Anja Dirkzwager

dr. Anja Dirkzwager

About dr. Anja Dirkzwager

Anja Dirkzwager received her Ph.D. degree in 2002 for a dissertation on posttraumatic stress reactions among Dutch soldiers who participated in international peacekeeping operations, and the wellbeing of their family members. Subsequently, she worked at the Netherlands Institute for Health Services Research (NIVEL) investigating the physical and mental health consequences of disasters.

As of August 2007, she works as a senior researcher at NSCR. She is one of the principal investigators who initiated the Prison Project, a nationwide and longitudinal study on the effects of imprisonment on the further life-course of prisoners and their families. Her research interests include the physical and mental health of prisoners and their family members; prisoners’ perceptions of the conditions of confinement; and the effects of imprisonment on the further life-course.

She is chairing the ESC working group Prison Life & Effects of Imprisonment.

Anja is a member of the Life-course Cluster, the Intergenerational Cluster and the Sanctions Cluster.

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