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Open Access Short Report

Sensitivity of a national coronial database for monitoring unnatural deaths among ex-prisoners in Australia

Jessica Y Andrews1, Simon Forsyth2, Jessica Wade1 and Stuart A Kinner123*

Author Affiliations

1 Centre for Population Health, Burnet Institute, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC Australia

2 School of Population Health, University of Queensland, Herston Road, Herston, QLD Australia

3 School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Monash University, 85 Commercial Road, Melbourne, VIC Australia

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BMC Research Notes 2011, 4:450  doi:10.1186/1756-0500-4-450

Published: 27 October 2011



The period immediately after release from custody is a time of marked vulnerability and increased risk of death for ex-prisoners. Despite this, there is currently no routine, national system for monitoring ex-prisoner mortality in Australia. This study subsequently aimed to evaluate the sensitivity of Australia's National Coroners Information System (NCIS) for identifying reportable deaths among prisoners and ex-prisoners.


Prisoner and ex-prisoner deaths identified through an independent search of the NCIS were compared with 'gold standard' records of prisoner and ex-prisoner deaths, generated from a national monitoring system and a state-based record linkage study, respectively. Of 294 known deaths in custody from 2001-2007, an independent search of the NCIS identified 229, giving a sensitivity of 77.9% (72.8%-82.3%). Of 677 known deaths among ex-prisoners from 2001-2007, an independent search of the NCIS identified 37, giving a sensitivity of 5.5% (4.0-7.4%). Ex-prisoner deaths that were detected were disproportionately drug-related, occurring within the first four weeks post-release, among younger prisoners and among those with more than two prior prison admissions.


Although a search of the NCIS detected the majority of reportable deaths among prisoners, it was only able to detect a small minority of reportable deaths among ex-prisoners. This suggests that the NCIS is not effective for monitoring mortality among ex-prisoners in Australia. Given the elevated rates of mortality among ex-prisoners in Australia and elsewhere, there remains an urgent need to establish a process for routine monitoring of ex-prisoner mortality, preferably through record linkage.