Communities and Justice

Young People in Custody Health Survey

In 2003, Youth Justice NSW and the Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network conducted the first Young People in Custody Health Survey. The survey was repeated in 2009 and 2015 establishing a sexennial cycle for the project.

The Young People in Custody Health Survey provides an up-to-date physical and mental health profile of the juvenile custodial population, with data gathered through face-to-face interviews; physical, mental health and cognitive assessments and pathology testing. Participation is voluntary.

In 2015, the survey extended the scope of the previous surveys by reporting on the impact of trauma exposure, speech and language deficiencies, as well as Aboriginal identity and cultural connectedness.

Results of the 2015 survey highlighted the complex physical and psychosocial health needs of young people in custody in NSW. They confirmed the findings of the previous surveys, suggesting that young people in custody experience greater social disadvantage than those in the community. This was demonstrated through poor literacy skills, low levels of intellectual ability and educational attainment, and high levels of out-of-home-care and parental incarceration.

In comparison to those in the community, findings suggested that young people in custody also have poorer physical and mental health and are more likely to have a history of alcohol and illicit drug use and dependence.

While similar findings were observed across the entire sample, they were generally more prevalent among Aboriginal young people.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 iteration of the survey was delayed, with data collection commencing in late 2022.  Youth Justice NSW conducted the 2022 survey in the absence of Justice Health and Forensic Mental Health Network, replacing the physical and pathology testing components with a self-report physical health questionnaire.

In addition to the measures administered in 2015, the 2022 survey also included the Westerman Aboriginal Symptom Checklist for Youth (WASC-Y) and Adults (WASC-A) to enhance the identification of risk of depression, suicidal behaviours, drug and alcohol use, impulsivity, and anxiety for Aboriginal young people, and to determine levels of cultural resilience as a moderator of risk.

A report will be published in late 2024 with findings to be used to identify health and wellbeing needs of young people in custody, inform policy, and improve services, by directing resources and developing and implementing targeted interventions.

Last updated:

14 May 2024