The national youth justice data linkage project

Project Details


Young people exposed to the youth justice system in Australia shoulder a disproportionate burden of adolescent morbidity and mortality. They experience elevated rates of mental illness, cognitive disability, substance use, infectious disease, and non-communicable conditions, and die at a rate much higher than that of their age- and sex-matched peers, most often due to suicide, injury, drug overdose, or violence. These health problems frequently co-occur such that complex multi-morbidity is normative. Despite their extreme vulnerability, remarkably little is known about patterns of healthcare use in young people after release from detention or other forms of youth justice supervision. This missing knowledge is urgently needed to inform targeted, evidence-based interventions to reduce morbidity and mortality in our most vulnerable young people.

"Health service utilisation and preventable mortality in justice-involved young people: A national, retrospective data linkage study” is a NHMRC-funded project led by the Justice Health Unit. This project will link the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) nationwide youth justice records 2000-2019 (N~95,000) with national emergency department, hospital, Medicare, Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), and National Death Index data. For the first time at this scale both globally and in Australia, this project will document patterns and predictors of health service utilisation, health outcomes, and death in young people exposed to the youth justice system.

Specifically, we will:

  1. Compare rates of primary care, acute care, and medication use in justice-involved young people with that of their age- and sex-matched peers in the community;
  2. Estimate all-cause and cause-specific mortality risk in the cohort and compared to their age- and sex-matched peers in the community;
  3. Identify risk and protective factors associated with mortality to inform targeted intervention;
  4. Through expert consensus (a Delphi panel), generate practice-based and consumer informed evidence regarding candidate interventions to improve health outcomes and reduce preventable morbidity and mortality in justice-involved youth.

Despite evidence of profound marginalisation, complex physical and mental health problems, and a markedly increased risk of preventable death, this will be the first ever project to rigorously and comprehensively characterise health service use and mortality outcomes for young people who come into contact with the youth justice system. This project will extend beyond descriptive epidemiology to generate specific, testable hypotheses regarding mechanisms for improving health outcomes and reducing preventable mortality in these highly vulnerable young Australians.

For one page project summary, click here.

Note: The acronym for the national youth justice data is YJ-NMDS (Youth Justice National Minimum Dataset)


The Justice Health Unit (JHU) researchers involved with this project are:

Prof Stuart Kinner

A/Prof Rohan Borschmann

Dr Jesse Young

Lindsay Pearce

Anna Forsythe

Dr Kathryn Snow (JHU alumna)


The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW)

Murdoch Children's Research Institute (MCRI)

Australasian Youth Justice Administrators (AYJA)


National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), $850,615 (2019-2023)

Research Group

Key Contact

For further information about this research, please contact the research group leader.

Department / Centre

Centre for Health Equity

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