“ACT Corrective Services recognises that increasing Aboriginal led services within the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) a minimum to maximum security prison is essential to maintaining cultural connection for Aboriginal detainees and improving overall wellbeing and safety.”
Speaking at the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) board meeting ACT Minister for Justice Shane Rattenbury announced that Winnunga Aboriginal Health and Community Services (AHCS) will move soon into full service delivery at the AMC
Photo above Minister with some of the new NACCHO Board December 2017 : Pic Oliver Tye
Julie Tongs pictured above with Shane Rattenbury and NACCHO CEO John Singer
‘Importantly, Winnunga will continue to be a separate independent entity, but will work in partnership with the ACT Government to complement the services already provided by ACT Corrective Services and ACT Health to deliver better outcomes for Indigenous detainees.
It is ground breaking to have an Aboriginal community controlled and managed organisation delivering health and wellbeing services within its own model of care to inmates in prison in this capacity’ Ms Tongs said.
‘Winnunga delivering health and wellbeing services in the AMC and changing the way the system operates is the legacy of Steven Freeman, a young Aboriginal man who tragically died whilst in custody in the AMC in 2016
It is also ground breaking for our sector, so it needs to be given the recognition it deserves’
Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (Winnunga AHCS) welcomed the announcement by Minister Shane Rattenbury
Winnunga has commenced enhanced support at the AMC focused on female detainees, and will move to full delivery of standalone health, social and emotional wellbeing services in the AMC in 2018.
The Independent Inquiry into the Treatment in Custody of Steven Freeman highlighted the need for improvements in a range of areas including cultural proficiency to more effectively manage the welfare of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees.
The ACT Government is working to develop a safer environment for all detainees, especially Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees.
Minister Rattenbury welcomed the involvement of Winnunga AHCS in the delivery of health services within its culturally appropriate model of care in the AMC.
To achieve this ACT Corrective Services and Justice Health have been working closely with Winnunga AHCS to enhance their presence in the AMC. Winnunga AHCS has begun delivering social and emotional wellbeing services to female detainees who choose to access Winnunga AHCS in the AMC.
Over time, all detainees will have the option to access Winnunga AHCS services.
Winnunga AHCS will over time deliver services to all inmates in the AMC who choose to access this option, however the services will be implemented through a staged process initially focussed on female detainees. This will help inform system changes as we operationalise the model of care within the AMC.
‘In 2018, we will expand our role to deliver GP and social and emotional wellbeing services to all detainees who choose to access Winnunga AHCS in the AMC, Monday to Friday, between the hours of 9am to 5pm’, Ms Tongs noted.
‘Winnunga does not want to be divisive in the AMC, we will be inclusive.
Obviously, there will be some issues particularly around – strong identity and connection to land, language and culture, and how the impact of colonisation and stolen Generations affects unresolved trauma, grief and loss that will be specific to Aboriginal people, however we will work with all inmates’, said Ms Tongs.
Ms Tongs stated, ‘The priority for us is to ensure in time all Aboriginal people are provided with an Aboriginal health check and care plan…the goal is for Winnunga to provide all services we do outside in the community, to prisoners also on the inside and this is a very good starting point’.
“Shamefully, poor health is a big part of this picture. The ‘imprisonment gap’ is a symptom of the health gap. As doctors, we believe that prevention is better than cure. By focusing on health, wellbeing, and diversion from the justice system, particularly for the young, lives can be transformed, to the benefit of the whole community. Sick people do not belong in prison; but too often, that is where they can end up, and that is no way to get better – in any sense.
We believe that these programs should be driven by Indigenous leaders and those working in the field, providing health services, representation, and advocacy, and would be pleased to work the government to develop these programs. The national underfunding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services must also be corrected, with increased investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health organisations.”
The Law Society of South Australia and Australian Medical Association (SA) are jointly and overwhelmingly concerned by the rate of Indigenous imprisonment in Australia.
We call on Federal and State Governments to prioritise justice reinvestment programs and “close the gap” targets which give better solutions to preventing Indigenous offending than the four walls of a jail cell.
President of the Law Society, David Caruso, said: “These initiatives focus on prevention and early intervention. They target the reasons for criminality and are effective in reducing re-offending and giving people options for a law abiding life”.
Justice reinvestment is supported by lawyers and doctors. The Chief Justice of South Australia, the Honourable Chris Kourakis, has voiced his support for justice reinvestment in the latest “Aboriginal Justice” edition of The Law Society Bulletin.
The Law Society and AMA (SA) agree that diversion programs should focus on issues endemic to disadvantaged Indigenous communities including poor health, particularly mental illness, and substance abuse. These issues are among the most significant drivers of the imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
“Our Aboriginal communities need and deserve better and smarter approaches to getting people out of the criminal justice system and prisons. We need evidence-based solutions that have rehabilitation as their aim,” Mr Caruso said.
“It is not a quick fix but we need to firmly invest in change now. The sooner we do so, the sooner we show a commitment to breaking the cycle of disproportionate and unacceptable numbers of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.”
“Crime, poverty and ill-health should not be daily concerns for Aboriginal people, or any members of our community. But for too many, it is a reality. We need multi-sector commitment to create better opportunities and health for our First Peoples,” Mr Caruso said.
“Both the health and justice systems are failing Indigenous Australians,” said AMA(SA) President Dr Janice Fletcher. “While passionate, hard-working people are dedicating their lives to making a difference in these areas, it is still not enough. Our whole health and justice systems need to do much better.”
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are dying sooner than other Australians, and are significantly over-represented in custodial settings. They are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-Indigenous peers.
“Shamefully, poor health is a big part of this picture. The ‘imprisonment gap’ is a symptom of the health gap. As doctors, we believe that prevention is better than cure. By focusing on health, wellbeing, and diversion from the justice system, particularly for the young, lives can be transformed, to the benefit of the whole community. Sick people do not belong in prison; but too often, that is where they can end up, and that is no way to get better – in any sense,” said Dr Fletcher.
The South Australian Government has been investigating the implementation of a justice reinvestment pilot program, but sufficient funding has not been made available to establish a program as yet. The Law Society and AMA (SA) call on the Government to honour its election promise and commit funding to establish a justice reinvestment pilot program. Further, the Law Society and AMA (SA) call on the Federal Government to coordinate a national justice reinvestment program in conjunction with States and Territories, focusing on areas with high rates of crime and disadvantage.
We believe that these programs should be driven by Indigenous leaders and those working in the field, providing health services, representation, and advocacy, and would be pleased to work the government to develop these programs. The national underfunding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health services must also be corrected, with increased investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-controlled health organisations.
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“An ongoing issue in Australia, which we have failed to reverse – just as we have failed to close the gap – is the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prisons.
Nationally, the rate of imprisonment for ATSI people was 13 times higher than for non-Indigenous people at June 30, 2014. This figure covers a diverse situation across the nation. In Western Australia, ATSI men and women are 18 times more times likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be imprisoned in WA, whereas in Tasmania the rate is four times higher.”
“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, Prison should be treated as a last resort.”
“As well as a bipartisan approach to reduce the use of remand, we need to lower our very high reoffending rates, which are higher than most other comparable countries. We need to make sure people in jail receive help. This especially applies to literacy and numeracy, and also with regard to alcohol and drug programs. Moreover, inmates ought to continue to receive assistance after being released.”
If that (mass incarceration) occurred, and as a result Aboriginal Australians had a similar incarceration rate as non-Aboriginal Australians, just imagine the funds that would become available for improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous people.
From “Decriminalise personal drug use to reduce prison population” full article below
Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority.
Australia has reached a decade-high rate of imprisonment. The Australian Bureau of Statistics’ announcement of this last year created little impact or interest.
Across Australia, 33,791 persons were in adult corrective services custody at June 30 2014. That was a 10% increase from 2013. By the December quarter 2014, the average daily number of prisoners had risen to 34,647.
For both men and women in custody, the most frequent serious offence was an act intended to cause injury (21% for men, 20% for women).
The next most common offences differed according to gender. Men were equally likely to be in custody for a most serious offence of sexual assault, unlawful entry with intent and illicit drug offences (all 12%). For women, the next most likely reasons were illicit drug offences (17%) and offences against justice procedures, government security and operations (11%).
The circumstances that lead to imprisonment and the context of the crime cannot be ascertained from such data. It still raises important questions about the use of imprisonment for non-violent offences.
Indigenous Australians suffer punitive approach
An ongoing issue in Australia, which we have failed to reverse – just as we have failed to close the gap – is the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our prisons.
Nationally, the rate of imprisonment for ATSI people was 13 times higher than for non-Indigenous people at June 30, 2014. This figure covers a diverse situation across the nation. In Western Australia, ATSI men and women are 18 times more times likely than non-Indigenous Australians to be imprisoned in WA, whereas in Tasmania the rate is four times higher.
… too many Indigenous Australians will remain second-class citizens in their own country … remaining the object of law when it comes to criminalisation and incarceration.
The most recent statistics affirm that Cunneen’s predictions are unfolding with little sign of abating.
Prisons are a poor substitute for mental health care
An emerging concern is the recognition and realisation that mental illness and mental impairment are diagnosed at much higher rates within our imprisoned population than in the wider community.
Data on this issue is less easily accessed nationally. What we do know is that there is a “higher incidence of mental health problems in the Australian prison population than in the general population” and that “almost two in five prison entrants (38%) reported having been told that they have a mental health disorder”.
Prison is fast becoming a significant location for individuals with high mental health needs to be supported and managed. This reflects a national malaise, stemming from the responsibility we must all bear for decisions to remove so many of the support networks that were in place decades ago – and to remove them without any replacement or alternative. The result has been the criminalisation of an increasing number of people.
Public debate ignores need for change
This brief review of current data and trends raises several important questions: why is imprisonment being used, for what purpose, and to what ends?
This series aims to offer a snapshot of incarceration trends across Australia and to identify imprisonment policies and practices that we need to change.
Each state and territory has different issues of most concern. These may relate to rates of imprisonment of particular marginalised populations, or legislative changes resulting in remand rates skyrocketing and/or parole being virtually unobtainable.
This series aims to provide a platform for public discussion via a critical mass of articles that take stock of the situation in each state and territory, and as a nation.
Should we decriminalise personal drug use to reduce prison population
Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority
The British established a prison colony in Australia in 1788 because they ran out of prison capacity in Britain, and America was no longer available after the 1776 revolution. But the fact incarceration had failed to dent Britain’s huge social and economic problems has not stopped successive Australian governments trying to solve our own problems by imprisoning more people.
It’s an admission of failure and a national disgrace. Recently in Australia, incarceration rates increased from 158.8 per 100,000 in 2004 to 185.6 last year. This is an area where growth is a serious problem. That’s a 17 per cent increase, and the situation is getting worse.
While Victoria has the highest percentage of privatised prisoners in the world, in NSW the number of adult inmates in prison is nearing a record 12,000. This represents not just an extravagant waste of money but also an enormous waste of human potential. At an estimated annual cost of at least $75,000 a prisoner, it is also a drain on the public purse when governments have been telling the community — some would argue incorrectly — that we are drowning in government debt.
The situation is much worse in the US, which imprisons a huge 754 per 100,000 — the highest in the world. This means that while the land of the free and the home of the brave has 4.4 per cent of the world’s population, it houses 22 per cent of the world’s inmates.
With 2.3 million incarcerated, there are more Americans imprisoned than in the military. Indeed, mass incarceration there gobbles up $US60.3 billion ($78bn) in annual budget expenditure.
In Australia, we urgently need to reduce the burgeoning numbers of our prison population, which is a direct result of “law and order auctions” at state and federal levels. This is promulgated by all major political parties, which — when crime rates are falling — try to outbid each other when it comes to tougher sentences.
This splurge on punishment is utterly unsustainable. But there are some clear-cut solutions that could save this waste. We should be looking to increase substantially the use of non-custodial sentences. And where our courts decide that they have no alternative except to send people to jail, in most cases we need shorter, not longer, sentences.
We also need to have far fewer people on remand. This is especially important as a significant number of these inmates — who comprise up to a third of our prison population — are eventually found not guilty.
As well as a bipartisan approach to reduce the use of remand, we need to lower our very high reoffending rates, which are higher than most other comparable countries. We need to make sure people in jail receive help. This especially applies to literacy and numeracy, and also with regard to alcohol and drug programs. Moreover, inmates ought to continue to receive assistance after being released.
More widely, we need to tackle structural inequality in our society. This is because the socially and economically disadvantaged sections of our nation have by far the highest rates of incarceration.
Without a doubt we need to reform our drug laws. In my opinion, this should be along the lines of Portugal, which in 2001 introduced laws that referred people found in possession of less than 10 days’ supply of any illegal drug for a health and social assessment and possible treatment. As a result, drug treatment facilities were expanded and improved. Not only has the crime rate fallen, but deaths from HIV and drug-use have declined markedly.
While a socialist government introduced the Portuguese scheme to decriminalise personal drug use, it was kept essentially intact when government changed hands. It has a high level of support across the political spectrum and throughout the wider community.
Importantly, in Portugal, all the huge savings made by reducing the costs of law enforcement and imprisonment are spent on public health.
To reduce the mass incarceration that occurs throughout Australia, we urgently need to adopt the Portuguese model. This especially applies to our disadvantaged communities, such as those in the Northern Territory.
The Portuguese scheme ought to be combined with raising the price of low-cost alcoholic beverages, which would reduce consumption significantly.
If that occurred, and as a result Aboriginal Australians had a similar incarceration rate as non-Aboriginal Australians, just imagine the funds that would become available for improving the health and wellbeing of indigenous people.
Reducing the number of Australians behind bars is something that should appeal to all of us.
The savings in government expenditure would delight fiscal conservatives. People focused on social justice would be delighted to see less disparity between high and low-income groups.
Australians who focus on families would enjoy seeing fewer husbands and wives separated.
They would also rejoice in witnessing fewer parents and children separated and hence not caught up in a vicious cycle of crime and punishment.
In terms of meaningful solutions to mass incarceration we need look no further than the ideas of US Attorney-General Eric Holder. In a seminal article for ‘The Washington Post’ last month, Holder wrote, “a rare consensus has emerged in favour of reforming our federal drug sentencing laws”.
This presents, he argues, a historic opportunity to reform the criminal justice system in the US. Eighteen months ago, this enlightened federal official launched a “Smart on Crime” initiative that focused on reducing the use of draconian mandatory minimum sentences for low-level drug offences. It also involved substantial investment in alcohol and drug rehabilitation programs that reduced the likelihood of recidivism.
Preliminary results from this effort have been extremely encouraging. Remarkably, last year marked the first simultaneous reduction in crime and incarceration rates in more than four decades.
If they can do this in crime-conscious America, there is surely nothing to stop us doing it here.
Author of 36 books, Ross Fitzgerald was for 20 years a member of the Queensland Parole Board and the NSW State Parole Authority.
The Weekend Australian, April 11-12, 2015, Inquirer, p 24.
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
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.
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?