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Queensland ACCHOs continue to advocate for criminal justice system reform

Joseph Guenzler -

After the recent tragic death of a young Aboriginal man at Perth's Casuarina Prison, the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) has stressed the immediate requirement for prison system reform.

Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council (QAIHC) is urging prompt action to address the absence of cultural safety experienced by Indigenous youth in custody in Queensland.

They emphasise that unless systemic racism within the criminal justice system is promptly addressed, tragedies will persist.

QAIHC is on board with Health and Aged Care Minister Mark Butler's recent commitment at the recent NACCHO Members Conference in Perth, where he pledged to review healthcare access and cultural appropriateness for Indigenous people in custody.

Though, QAIHC is cautious that a review lacking the input and participation of Australia's Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (ACCHO) sector would not suffice, urging the Department of Health and Aged Care to collaborate with NACCHO in this review.

QAIHC appreciates the Minister's dedication to examining the integration of Australia's ACCHO sector with the criminal justice system, ensuring culturally safe healthcare for Indigenous people in custody nationwide.

"To reduce the flow of young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals entering the criminal justice system, lower the rate of repeat offenders, and most crucially, eliminate deaths in custody, we urge both the Federal and Queensland Governments to take immediate action to review the state of healthcare in prisons," QAIHC CEO, Cleveland Fagan said.

"ACCHOs understand the unique needs, challenges, and solutions our communities require, and it is critical that the ACCHO sector is involved in a review and in the ongoing delivery of healthcare to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in custody."

They recommend that the federal government collaborates with state and territory health and corrections ministers to expedite access to Medicare for healthcare provided to all individuals in custody across the country.

Queensland is making significant legislative changes by passing stringent youth crime laws. These laws supersede Queensland's Human Rights Act and make the breach of bail an offence for children.

As a result, it is expected that a higher number of children will face detention, causing extended periods of confinement.

These adjustments are likely to bring obstacles in achieving Target 11 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, which aims to reduce the detention rate of young Indigenous people (10-17 years) by a minimum of 30 per cent by 2031.

This demonstrates the urgency of community-driven measures to prevent children from entering the criminal justice system to begin with.

Alarming statistics reveal that Indigenous people comprise roughly one-third of Queensland's prison population, placing them as the most incarcerated group on a global scale.

Additionally, children aged 10 to 13 in custody, a group already considered too young for detention, showing a disproportionate representation of Indigenous youth.

The prioritisation of the physical, mental, social, emotional, neurodevelopmental, and spiritual wellbeing of inmates during their time in custody is vital for addressing this health disparity and decreasing the overrepresentation.

"We must increase access to culturally safe, effective, and relevant care and support within the justice system, in alignment with the National Agreement on Closing the Gap," Mr Fagan said.

"Implementing Medicare in prison health services is another important step toward better inmate well-being as well as effective referral pathways back into the community to ensure ongoing support."

This calls for the active participation of ACCHOs, which are positioned to offer culturally-centered and holistic care to Indigenous communities.

The federal government's commitment to participating in extensive prison system reform highlights the significance of Queensland's role in these deliberations.

QAIHC promotes a system that provides young individuals within the criminal justice system with culturally safe care and support, facilitating their successful reintegration into their communities and breaking the cycle of incarceration.

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