NACCHO Health:Aboriginal woman’s jailing highlights plight of intellectually impaired Aboriginal offenders


Ms Fulton is an Aboriginal woman (from Alice Springs) with intellectual disability  has been held in Kalgoorlie prison for eighteen months without a trial or conviction

An investigation has revealed dozens of intellectually disabled Aboriginal people are being kept in prison indefinitely because of a lack of proper healthcare facilities.

The ABC’s Lateline program exposed the case of 23-year-old Rosie Anne Fulton, who has spent the past 18 months in a Kalgoorlie jail without a trial or conviction after she was charged with driving offences.

“It is simply unacceptable that a nation of Australia’s standing, and commitment to the rule of law, should lock people up for undetermined periods when they have not been found guilty of an offence.  Prison is simply not an alternative accommodation option for people with disabilities

Australian Human Rights Commission Press release below

The magistrate in her case declared her unfit to plead because she is intellectually impaired – a victim of foetal alcohol syndrome – and has the mental capacity of a young child.


Her legal guardian, former police officer Ian McKinlay, says Ms Fulton ended up on a prison-based supervision order because there were no alternatives in the area at the time.

“At the moment this outcome is almost entirely reserved for Aboriginal, Indigenous Australians,” he said.


The Aboriginal Disability Justice Campaign says there are at least 30 Indigenous people in a similar situation around the country.

Western Australia’s Inspector of Custodial Services, Neil Morgan, says the state has no option but to incarcerate Ms Fulton as existing options are limited.

“One is a ‘declared place’, which was always intended to be for people like this. Unfortunately we still don’t have any declared places 15 years after the Act came into force,” he said.

“The second option is an authorised hospital, and that’s only for a person with a treatable mental illness.

“And the third option, which is almost the option of default, is that the person ends up in prison or in a juvenile detention centre.”

Mr Morgan concedes that most of those caught up in the system are Indigenous, although he says the law does not target Aboriginal people.

“The vast majority of people who’ve been caught under the Act and held under a custody order by reason of a cognitive impairment are in fact Aboriginal people, and a large number of them are Aboriginal men and women from remote and regional Western Australia.”

Meanwhile, Mr McKinlay has been trying to get Ms Fulton moved to Alice Springs to be closer to her family.

“She rings several times a week, sometimes twice a day, wanting to know when she is coming back to live in Alice Springs,” he said.

Last year, the Northern Territory health department agreed to move Ms Fulton to a secure care facility built next to the Alice Springs prison.

The centre was specifically designed to house people with intellectual disabilities and challenging behaviours.

Mr McKinlay says he received repeated assurances last year from the department that Ms Fulton would be moved there.

“They identified her as a prime candidate for secure care and they rejected any other form of service that guardians were advocating for pending the completion of this facility,” he said.

Rejected by health department due to ‘untenable’ risks

One set back may be that Mr McKinlay last month he received a new letter from the health department, this time rejecting Ms Fulton.

The letter states that she is not compatible with the male residents staying at the centre.

“From a clinical risk management perspective, the risks posed to Ms Fulton’s safety were she transferred to the facility are untenable,” the letter stated.

A statement issued from the NT health department said secure care facilities were not gender specific.

“The Department of Health always holds the health and wellbeing of clients as paramount,” the statement said.

“Due to its responsibility to client privacy, the department is unable to provide comment on specific client circumstances, treatment or care.”

Mr McKinlay says he believes the rejection of Ms Fulton is a bid to save money.

“Well, it comes down to cost in the end. People in Rosie Anne’s category of need are virtually just waited out until they become prison-ready, default to the criminal justice system and imprisonment and jail,” he said.

Warren Mundine, the chairman of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council, says Ms Fulton is trapped in a bureaucratic nightmare.

“From day one she should never have been in a prison situation,” he told Lateline.

“She should have been in a health facility in a proper service area, and that’s going to be the challenge between the Federal, the West Australian and Northern Territory governments to fix this, because you just can’t have people indefinitely with mental health issues like that being trapped in a prison.”

Family want Rosie Anne moved closer to home

Mark O’Reilly, principal legal officer at the Central Australian Aboriginal Legal Aid Service, says Ms Fulton’s story is not unique.

“We’ve had situations where following the ordinary process someone might be looking at three months in prison. We’ve had people in

In a widely publicised case, a mentally impaired West Australian man – Marlon Noble – spent 10 years behind bars without ever standing trial on child sex assault charges.

He was released in 2012 under strict conditions.

Two facilities for mentally impaired prisoners are currently being built by the West Australian Government, which says it is committed to building facilities for mentally impaired people who are accused and not convicted.

But Ms Fulton says she has no family in Perth and does not want to be moved there. She wishes to return to Alice Springs.

Will MacGregor runs a drug and alcohol rehabilitation service for young people in Alice Springs called Bush Mob.

He said there was a desperate need for more facilities for intellectually impaired Indigenous Australians, especially those suffering from foetal alcohol syndrome.

“Whether it’s secure care or supported accommodation options, the models are out there and a lot of people have been advocating the models for a lot of years,” he said.

“But again it comes back to a global financial crisis-type of budgets and maybe a hardening of hearts.”

Ms Fulton’s family want her moved closer to Alice Springs so they can help her.

“I want to talk to this girl when she come out, I’ll tell her you are a pretty girl,” aunt Ingrid Kanari said.

“You can have a better life, you can get work, settle down and work in the community. That’s what I want her to do.”

Prison not an appropriate home for people with disabilities

Keeping people with disabilities in prison when they have not been found guilty of any crime is a serious breach of fundamental human rights and must be urgently addressed, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

The issue was highlighted through the telling of Rosie Anne Fulton’s story on ABC TV’s Lateline last night.

Ms Fulton is an Aboriginal woman with intellectual disability who has been held in Kalgoorlie prison for eighteen months.  She was accused, but not convicted, of crimes relating to the use of a motor vehicle.  She was found unfit to plead as a result of her disability.  Ms Fulton and her guardian have sought her return to a care facility in Alice Springs, but this has been refused by the Northern Territory government.

“This type of incarceration without conviction seems to mostly happen to Aboriginal people,” said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda.

“Marlon Noble was kept in gaol for ten years without being found guilty of a crime, and now we have another example.  It is a breach of Ms Fulton’s human rights which must be urgently addressed,” he said.

Disability Discrimination Commissioner Graeme Innes agreed.  “We launched a report in February which demonstrated the lack of equal access to justice for Australians with disabilities, and this is just one example of a bigger problem,” he said.

“It is simply unacceptable that a nation of Australia’s standing, and commitment to the rule of law, should lock people up for undetermined periods when they have not been found guilty of an offence.  Prison is simply not an alternative accommodation option for people with disabilities.”

Both Commissioners urged the WA and NT governments to immediately resolve Ms Fulton’s situation, to carry out an audit of how many other Australians were being treated in this way, and to quickly address the problem.

Media contact:

For Commissioner Gooda contact Dominic O’Grady 0419 258 597

You can hear more about Aboriginal health and Close the Gap at the NACCHO SUMMIT


The importance of our NACCHO member Aboriginal community controlled health services (ACCHS) is not fully recognised by governments.

The economic benefits of ACCHS has not been recognised at all.

We provide employment, income and a range of broader community benefits that mainstream health services and mainstream labour markets do not. ACCHS need more financial support from government, to provide not only quality health and wellbeing services to communities, but jobs, income and broader community economic benefits.

A good way of demonstrating how economically valuable ACCHS are is to showcase our success at a national summit.



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