Position paper

Incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people: policy position statement

Indigenous incarceration Indigenous health Prisoner health Australia

This policy is underpinned by the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Mandela Rules’ – the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. It should also be read in conjunction with PHAA’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health policy position statement.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates are among the highest in the world - 12.7 times that of other Australians, reflecting broader social issues. Prison health is public health because most people are in prison for short periods, and many cycle through prison and the community multiple times. People in prison should have equivalent access to Australia’s universal health care as other Australians have in the community. As prisoners generally have poorer health than that of other Australians, additional resources are needed to adequately address their health care issues.

Key Findings:

  • The forced removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people from their families and communities has caused dislocation from culture and impacted their health and wellbeing.
  • Almost half (47%) of Aboriginal women entering prison have children who were dependent on them for their basic needs, and these Aboriginal mothers in prison have significant health needs associated with physical and mental health, and psychological distress.
  • PHAA recommends that Australia should raise the age of criminal responsibility in all jurisdictions to 14 years.
  • When incarceration is mandated, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners should be housed as close to their family/community of residence as possible.
  • Health care services in prison should be operated by jurisdictional health departments and not correctional service departments. In jurisdictions where this is not the case a transition to this approach should commence immediately.
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