Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference being held this week aims at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners
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GAMS chairman Sandy Davies (pictured below) said Aboriginal prisoners were at greater risk of chronic illness, mental illness and substance abuse.
“We aim to solve these problems by looking at alternatives to prison for minor offences, reducing the rate of ex-prisoners returning to prison, and paving the way for ex-offenders to better integrate back into society,” he said.
Mr Davies said prison should be treated as a last resort.
“Prison’s there for a purpose, it’s to protect the community,” he said.
“I don’t want people to misconstrue that we’re wanting to get prisoners out of prison – it’s just that there’s so many people in there that could be doing other things.”
Mr Gooda said if Aboriginal people were represented in jail at the same rate as the general population, it would save the country about $800 million a year in incarceration costs.
“Here’s a way governments can actually save a bit of money; by not locking people up who shouldn’t be locked up,” he said.
Mr Gooda said practical changes within the judicial and policing system could reduce Indigenous incarceration rates.
“Really practical day to day things that we can go to government with, that doesn’t involve overturning the whole justice system,” he said.
“Things like notifying people of court appearances, people with cognitive disabilities – let’s not put them in jail, let’s put them in an appropriate facility.
“Those are the sort of things I think we should be starting to look at, because every one person we save one night in jail, we’re heading towards reducing this awful rate.”
The conference was supported by NACCHO chair Matthew Cooke and CEO Lisa Briggs
Aboriginal incarceration rates at crisis point, says social justice commissioner Mick Gooda
Aboriginal incarceration rates have reached crisis point and communities need to unite to address the problem, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner Mick Gooda says.
Figures from the Productivity Commission show a 57 per cent rise in incarceration rates among Indigenous men, women and children over the past 15 years.
Speaking ahead of a Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service [GAMS] conference aimed at developing strategies to improve the health of Aboriginal prisoners and former prisoners, Mr Gooda said high Aboriginal incarceration rates and poor Aboriginal health were intrinsically entwined.
“If you think putting people in jail creates safe communities, we’re kidding ourselves,” he said.
“Stopping people offending creates safe communities.
“So that’s what we’re looking at now, how can we create safe communities.”
Mr Gooda said urgent action was needed to reduce incarceration rates.
“I’ve run out of adjectives, from emergency to urgent, to a catastrophe in the making, because the figures just keep climbing,” he said.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians.
Mr Gooda said it was vital Indigenous communities were united on the issue.
“If you don’t have a unified voice, the government will do whatever they want because they’ve got permission to do it because people aren’t coming together,” he said.
“So it’s really important that communities sit down and start talking together
Inside Out: Indigenous imprisonment in Australia – documentary video
Filmed on the plains of north-western New South Wales, this documentary looks at one man’s fight against the scourge of Indigenous imprisonment in his community.
Inside Out tells the story of a pastor and former prison guard, Uncle Isaac Gordon, whose dream is to see the numbers of Aboriginal youths heading to jail slashed. Gordon wants to build a ‘healing centre’ for troubled Aboriginal young people at risk of jail time, built on his family’s ancestral land near the towns of Brewarrina and Walgett. But will government bodies get on board?