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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at higher risk of death post release from prison: opinion

Date posted: 23 February 2017

Dr Megan Williams, a Senior Research Fellow at the Aboriginal Health and Wellbeing Research Team at Western Sydney University in New South Wales believes that the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system is only the tip of the iceberg. Dr Williams is concerned that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to die in the days and weeks after release from prison than they are in custody and points to a 2011 study in the Medical Journal of Australia, to support this claim.

'Opioid substitution therapy has become more available for those who are drug dependent, and continuous from prison to the community as an effective way to reduce risk of post-release death. But the same research attention to understanding and preventing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ post-release risks has not occurred, with few, if any, trials of alcohol or other interventions,' said Dr Williams.

Where non-Indigenous people are more likely to be at risk of post-release death from accidental drug overdose, particularly opioids, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to die from alcohol-related harms, preventable health conditions and suicide.

'The majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison have been there before, often multiple times. High rates of reincarceration and post-release death signal that they do not receive enough assistance under current programs and policies,' she added.

But because prisoners have no right to Medicare, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison have reduced access to the types of comprehensive primary healthcare available in the community, including health assessments, care plans and social and emotional wellbeing programs.

The Public Health Association of Australia and the Australian Medical Association have called on the Australian government to allow prisoners to retain their right to Medicare.

Renewed attention to bring about this change will enable continuity of care between prison and the community, which is vital for preventing post-release deaths. Waiting until after prison is too late.

Source: The Guardian


Last updated: 23 February 2017
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Australia's National Research Centre on AOD Workforce Development National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre National Drug Research Institute