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2015 AMA Report Card on Indigenous Health - Closing the Gap on Indigenous Imprisonment Rates

Among the divides between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people in Australia, the health and life expectancy gap, and the stark difference in the rates of imprisonment, are among the most well-known.

In 2006, the AMA first cast its spotlight on the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and the links to the lifetime health conditions of Indigenous people who have spent time in prison.  At that time, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprised 22 per cent of the entire prison population, and an Indigenous person was 12 times more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Indigenous peer.

As the 2015 Report Card on Indigenous Health demonstrates, the situation is much worse.  In 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise 28 per cent of all sentenced prisoners, and are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people.  

The rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is rising dramatically, and is an issue that demands immediate action.  Between 2014 and 2015 alone, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander males in prison rose by seven per cent, and females by nine per cent.  What is more disturbing is that young Indigenous people aged 10 to 17 years are 17 times more likely than their non-Indigenous peers to have been under youth supervision.

The 2015 Report Card on Indigenous Health recognises that life expectancy and overall health is most definitely linked to prison and incarceration.  The AMA believes that the ‘imprisonment gap’ is symptomatic of the health gap and that it is possible to isolate particular health issues – notably mental health conditions, alcohol and other drug use, substance abuse disorders and cognitive disabilities – as among the most significant drivers of the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The 2015 Report Card on Indigenous Health examines how the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is compounded by a health system and prison health system that, despite some improvements over past decades, remains unable to respond appropriately to the needs of Indigenous prisoners.

The 2015 Report Card on Indigenous Health builds on calls in the AMA’s 2006 Indigenous Health Report Card by recommending that governments:

  • set a national target for ‘closing the gap’ in the rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (that is, bringing it down to at least the rates among non-Indigenous Australians); and
  • adopt a justice reinvestment approach to fund services that will divert individuals from prison as a major focus.

It is not credible to suggest that Australia, one of the world’s wealthiest nations, cannot solve a health and justice crisis affecting three per cent of its citizens.  The AMA urges Australia’s political leaders at all levels of government to take note of the 2015 Report Card on Indigenous Health and act to implement solutions.

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