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Balancing Act

Since 2013, Directors of Public Health have had significant responsibilities for improving the health and well-being of their local population – including those in touch with the criminal justice system.

Health inequalities experienced by people in contact with the criminal justice system are well above the average experienced by the general population. As well as those in a custodial setting, this includes offenders serving community sentences, those who are in the community on licence and those in contact with the criminal justice system on suspicion of committing a criminal offence.

Evidence illustrates that as a group, those who have or are at risk of offending frequently suffer from multiple and complex health issues, including mental and physical health problems, learning difficulties, substance misuse and increased risk of premature mortality. These underlying health issues are often exacerbated by difficulties in accessing the full range of health and social care services available in the local community.

Within the new health service commissioning landscape, Directors of Public Health, share responsibilities for and have a direct interest in addressing health inequalities among people in the community who are in contact with the criminal justice system. Tackling these issues for this vulnerable group will help Directors of Public Health to meet key national targets for public health outcomes and improve the health and wellbeing of their area.

Furthermore, as poor health, including mental health, is often interlinked to offending and reoffending behaviour, Directors of Public Health can help contribute to safer communities and reducing reoffending.

Working with a wide range of partners across the health and criminal justice sectors, both locally and nationally, will be fundamental to tackling this shared agenda on health inequalities among people in contact with the criminal justice system. Directors of Public Health are well placed to play a proactive and key coordinating role.


Our report

Our report suggests positive actions and approaches which Directors of Public Health could use to tackle the health inequalities of people in contact with the criminal justice system residing in their community

Positive actions and approaches:

  • Understand the specific health needs of those in contact with the criminal justice system in the local community through using the available health data from criminal justice agencies, particularly the local probation service, in the Joint Strategic Needs Assessment process.
  • Build upon existing partnership arrangements and forums with overlapping membership, to coordinate this local offender health agenda e.g. Community Safety Partnerships, Drug and Alcohol Action Teams, Integrated Offender Management (“IOM”) and Safeguarding Partnerships, and working with Health and Justice Public Health Specialists within Public Health England Centres.
  • 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 utilise the increased flexibility being given across a range of public service areas to tailor solutions locally. The report highlights emerging initiatives which co-locate different services under one roof, and tailor multiple services around the needs of service users, as illustrations of promising practice.

Read our Balancing Act Report

Balancing Act

Addressing health inequalities among people in contact with the criminal justice system (2013)