New research published by the Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has highlighted the barriers limiting Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations (ACCHOs) from providing necessary holistic primary health care to imprisoned First Nations people.

The study, published in The Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, considered interviews from 19 staff from four ACCHOs nearby prisons in three Australian jurisdictions.

In the analysis, it was noted whilst many ACCHOs provide post-release programs, their capacity to deliver health care to prisoners is restricted because of access to prisoners, security measures and inadequate funding.

Co-Convener of the PHAA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Special Interest Group, Michael Doyle is an Aboriginal researcher in Aboriginal health who works primarily within the drug and alcohol space. Mr Doyle said there is a lack of communication between prisons and ACCHOs which contributes to these care limitations.

“The relationship between ACCHOs and corrective services is incredibly important and there should be more done in that space. It is difficult for the ACCHOs to do that with the resources they have,” Mr Doyle said.

“Corrective services shouldn’t expect the ACCHOs to fix or resolve issues, unless they give them the resources to do it.”

The limitations around care that ACCHOs provide extend beyond prison-life due to the fractured communication between the two institutions.

“People eventually get released from prison, and they will go to the ACCHOs. But they won’t have any paperwork or referrals from when they were in prison, there is a real issue in that communication,” Mr Doyle said.

The study made recommendations including reliable funding for ACCHOs and consistent access to prisoners to enable the effective delivery of holistic health care.

It urges State Governments to address prison access issues and the Federal Government to alter regulations that exclude prisoners from using Medicare.

It acknowledges the overrepresentation of First Nations peoples within correctional facilities and the health inequities that face them. Considering cultural, social and historical factors, the paper recognises the need for specific and targeted solutions.

“Prison health services are meant to hold a quality that you would otherwise receive in community,” Mr Doyle said.

“You’re in prison as punishment, not in prison for punishment, so you should get those same health services that you would get in community.”

To learn more about PHAA or to access the paper, visit: www.phaa.net.au/.

By Rachael Knowles