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Undue Punishment? Indigenous Prisoners' Health Plight Exposed

Indigenous prisoners are punished in many more ways than by simply being locked up. Through lack of access to high quality health services, mental illness, chronic and infectious diseases, violence and substance abuse all also take their toll at disproportionately high rates. The health plight of Indigenous people in prison is highlighted in Undue Punishment? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Prison: An unacceptable reality, the AMA's fifth Report Card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

18 May 2006

Indigenous prisoners are punished in many more ways than by simply being locked up. Through lack of access to high quality health services, mental illness, chronic and infectious diseases, violence and substance abuse all also take their toll at disproportionately high rates.

The health plight of Indigenous people in prison is highlighted in Undue Punishment? Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Prison: An unacceptable reality, the AMA's fifth Report Card on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health.

Launched today by AMA President, Dr Mukesh Haikerwal, at the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service in Melbourne, the Report Card reveals the devastating health reality for Indigenous inmates.

"The rates of smoking, drug and alcohol abuse, violence, infectious diseases, mental illness and chronic diseases are higher for Indigenous prisoners than for the Indigenous community in general and much higher than the national rates," Dr Haikerwal said.

"The figures also show that a high number of Indigenous prisoners commit suicide.

"This situation is simply unacceptable."

In the Report Card, the AMA urges all Australian Governments to strive to provide the highest possible quality health services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners.

"Firstly, we need to divert people with mental health and substance abuse problems into treatment programs rather than prison," Dr Haikerwal said.

"Australia must make sure that imprisonment is the last resort for people with a mental illness or substance abuse problem.

"Governments should set targets to reduce the national incarceration rates for people with these problems, then make sure they're met by having all prisoners screened by mental health teams as they're remanded or sentenced, and by fully funding any treatment they need.

Governments also should ensure that prisoners have the same access to health services as all other citizens, Dr Haikerwal said.

"The United Nations 1990 General Assembly Resolution on the Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners states that prisoners should be entitled to full access to health services, without discrimination," he said.

"The Federal Government can start by giving inmates the same access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as other Australians.

"And all Australian Governments must give responsibility for Indigenous prisoners' health care to Health Departments, not Departments of Corrective Services.

"Until these basic changes are made, the health reality for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners will remain unacceptable."

To view the rull Reportcard follow the link.


Published: 18 May 2006