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Quality of life, substance use and mental health among the incarcerated

On behalf of the Ministry of Justice and Public Security, PriSUD is carrying out a research project that will provide updated knowledge about incarcerated individual’s quality of life and health status. The study aims to improve the foundation of the department's assessment of whether the service offerings align with the needs of those in prison and in the community.

What we hope to achieve:

The overall aim of the research project is to describe quality of life and to provide knowledge about the prevalence of substance use and mental health problems among incarcerated individuals. The results of the research project will provide more knowledge about these individuals' overall needs and whether current service provision meets their real needs. It is expected that the results of the research project will lead to several clinical and practical implications.


The project is divided into three work packages:

1. Substance use and mental health.

We will map the occurrence of substance abuse and other mental disorders before and after incarceration, as well as looking at the development over time. We will also examine mortality and causes of death.

2. Quality of life

We will examine incarcerated individual's quality of life, including housing, finances, education level, and employment before, during, and after incarceration. We use national registries for this part of the research. We will have a particular focus on what may be relevant for the likelihood of recidivism.

3. Service needs and service provision.

Through an anonymous questionnaire, we will map the needs for and availability of various services before and after incarceration. The survey has been developed in close collaboration with the user organization WayBack, and anyone with experience serving a criminal sentence is welcome to participate.


In  work packages 1 and 2, we use national registry data. These are data that cover all sentences (prison and community) in Norway from 2010 to 2022, which are then linked with the Norwegian Patient Registry, social welfare data from Statistics Norway, and the Cause of Death Registry. These are very large and sensitive datasets, all of which are stored and processed in the University of Oslo secure storage services for sensitive data (TSD). The linkages are made in such a way that anonymity is maintained.


The project's final work package is of particular interest to the Correctional Services and the Ministry. In close collaboration with WayBack, we have created a questionnaire in which we aim to ascertain the extent to which treatment, support, and follow-up services during their sentence meet the convicted individuals' actual needs. We are not asking which services are available, but rather the extent to which the individuals themselves feel that their needs have been met, both during and after their sentence. We are also interested in whether the respondents know about provided services and other support and whether they choose to use these.


There is a significant accumulation of quality of life problems among inmates. We know that approximately half of all inmates have a substance use disorder when they enter prison, and a large proportion also have mental and physical illnesses. After release from prison, former inmates have a particular risk of overall mortality, especially overdose mortality. Inmates with previous substance use problems are more likely to relapse into substance use and criminality after release, and many face difficulties in reintegrating into work or education. A national survey of substance use, health, and overall well being may be an important part of identifying at-risk groups among incarcerated individuals in prisons and probation services, thereby helping to tailor interventions correctly.

On the other hand, there is little knowledge about those who are serving sentences outside of prison in the community. The proportion of this type of sentence has increased considerably over the past 10 years as more and more types of offenses have been made eligible. In order to be considered for this type of sentence, the convicted person must meet certain criteria. It is therefore expected that those who serve sentences in society are generally healthier and have fewer disadvantages than the population serving time in prison, but this has not been adequately researched. This project will provide knowledge about different groups serving sentences, which will shed light on the changing challenges over the past 13 years. The study will also contribute to a better foundation of knowledge for assessing whether the services offered are relevant and adequate for the target population. 

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