Indigenous mental health and Justice Reinvestment Campaign champion Dr Tom Calma AO welcomed this week’s Medical Journal of Australia report about Indigenous prisoners’ mental health in Queensland.
The report found that 73% of Indigenous men and 86% of Indigenous women in prison had a mental disorder, compared with 20% of the wider Australian community.
Dr Calma said: “It makes sobering, even shocking reading. But it shines a much-needed light on the subject and confirms what many of us have long suspected – that the appallingly high rates of Indigenous incarceration are associated with mental health disorders and substance abuse.”
Indigenous Australians make up 26% of all prisoners, despite comprising 2.5% of the total population.
Dr Calma also urged greater government support for the Justice Reinvestment Campaign, which seeks to use money spent keeping Indigenous Australians in prison to preventing them committing crimes in the first place:
“There were almost 8,000 Indigenous prisoners on the 2011 Census night, each costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep ‘inside’. I urge all Australian Governments to look at better returns on that money – by providing better mental health services and alcohol and drug treatment facilities in our communities as justice reinvestment measures, as well as services that are needed in their own right,”
Prominent Indigenous psychiatrist Professor Helen Milroy also called for greater investment in Indigenous mental health, early childhood and family services:
“Incarceration is for many the end point in a lifetime of adversity. If Australian governments are serious about the shamefully high rates of Indigenous incarceration, they must stem the flow by working in partnership with us to ensure Indigenous Australians have the same access to mental health and family support services as other Australians.”
Professor Milroy called for a comprehensive National Indigenous Mental Health Plan as a vital part of keeping Indigenous Australians out of prisons.
“With national mental health planning proceeding apace, and billions flowing into mainstream mental health, it is vital that Indigenous Australians get their fair share of funding and culturally acceptable programs and services. A comprehensive Indigenous mental health plan is needed to ensure we are not overlooked as we have been in the past.”
“Thirty-four years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody we are still waiting for a comprehensive approach to keeping our people out of prisons. This report means the connection between the lack of Indigenous mental health services and the high rates of Indigenous incarceration cannot be ignored.” Professor Milroy said.
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- For the MJA report by Heffernan et al. Prevalence of mental illness among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Queensland prisons. See: http://www.mja.com.au/journal/2012/197/1/prevalence-mental-illness-among-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander-people
- More information on the Justice Reinvestment Campaign is available at justicereinvestmentnow.net.au/.
- Project 10% is an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community led campaign aimed at reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in Queensland prisons: www.project10percent.org.au