I was glad to have attended the Sydney Justice and Health conference at the start of this week.
What were the key take away messages from this conference?
First of all, on a fundamental level, the conference brought me back to the first impulse I had towards epidemiology – understanding the health issues of prisoners, notably HIV, in my country. Back in 2009, I wanted to apply for what was known as a Sach’s fellowship to undertake research in the field, just before graduation from undergrad. The fellowship would have given me a year of funding. After the conference, I understood that was perhaps a far too ambitious aim for a 23 year old undergraduate student. Just obtaining authorization to enter the prisons could have taken a year, let alone conduct the necessary survey and take the samples.
Even as a PhD project, obtaining information regarding the distribution of health states and their change over time, among those imprisoned, is far from an easy undertaking.
It was indeed humbling to learn this.
Now, I did learn something about young people in Australia. On the opening day, a professor spoke about the clear link between childhood neglect or abuse, mental health and the justice system. An infant that is neglected – ignored – by the parents is most likely to have arrested development of certain regions of the brain. The result – mental illness later in childhood and adolescence. Yet perhaps the term “illness” is not appropriate, as the young person is not infirm in the mind per se, just neglected, so mental neglect could be the term.
Now what happens to such a young person? They end up being suspended from school and may end up committing a crime that brings them into the criminal justice system. And all of this is because their brains were neglected during the first years of life. Yet it seems this story could be broken. Would it be germane to investigate then the link between mental health and the criminal justice system for young people?