Blacks in Jail Health Alarm

Annalise Walliker, Herald Sun (Melbourne), May 19, 2006

The health of indigenous Australians in jail is a horror story of neglect, disadvantage and inequality, say doctors.

The Australian Medical Association report came as the Federal Government yesterday supported jailing Aboriginal child abusers and rapists.

AMA president Mukesh Haikerwal said the results of the annual report into indigenous health horrified him.

“Indigenous Australians make up 2.4 per cent of the population of Australia but 22 per cent of its prison population,” he said.

Indigenous prisoners are also hit harder by infectious and chronic diseases and mental illness, with 95 per cent of women and 78 per cent of men suffering at least one condition, he said.

Young indigenous Australians are 19 times more likely to end up in juvenile facilities than non-indigenous Australians, the report found. Almost nine-out-of-10 indigenous juvenile offenders end up in jail as an adult.

Dr Haikerwal called for jailing as a last resort and said all inmates should have the same access to Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as other Australians.

Prime Minister John Howard said from Chicago yesterday that Aboriginal child abusers and rapists must feel the full force of the law.

“I hold a very clear view on things like this, that there is one law in this country . . . and we are doing a grave disservice to indigenous communities by in any way holding back from the proper enforcement of the laws of this country,” he said.

Dr Haikerwal said just condemning the allegations was the easy way out.

“Violence and sexual abuse is unacceptable, we agree with that . . . but don’t stop there,” he said.

“Go drill down and find out why it’s happening. Sort out the underlying injustices . . . the poor housing, the poor water supply, the poor food, the hopelessness within the community,” he said.

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