Balancing Act

This briefing looks at health inequalities among people in contact with the criminal justice system residing in community settings. It suggests positive actions and approaches that Directors of Public Health can take as they assume new responsibilities for improving their local population’s health.
The briefing also highlights examples of promising practice – emerging initiatives which co-locate different services and tailor multiple services around the needs of service users.
Offenders and ex-offenders are a group with multiple and complex needs. To achieve health improvements among the whole population, they need to be considered. Yet they are often overlooked, despite disproportionately experiencing poor physical and mental health and commonly engaging in high-risk behaviours.
The new health commissioning landscape has created an important opportunity to respond to the health needs of the local population, including those living at the margins of society. Health inequalities among people in contact with the criminal justice system residing in the community must be considered to fully inform local public health strategies. Directors of Public Health can be instrumental in delivering significant health improvements among this group.
Tackling these issues will help Directors of Public Health meet key national targets for public health outcomes and improve the health and wellbeing of their area. Poor health, including mental health, is often interlinked to offending and reoffending, so they could also contribute to safer communities and reducing reoffending.
We recommend that Directors of Public Health:

Develop an understanding of the specific health needs of those in contact with the criminal justice system in the local community by using the available health data from criminal justice agencies
Build upon existing partnership arrangements and forums to coordinate this local offender health agenda
Work with partners to address other common risk factors and determinants associated with poor health and offending, such as homelessness
Develop a comprehensive and joined up strategy to tackle deep rooted and interrelated problems facing local communities
Explore opportunities for joint commissioning with partner agencies and use the increased flexibility across a range of public service areas to tailor solutions locally.