As Closing the Gap targets are ‘refreshed’ peak bodies and organisations are calling for a commitment reducing imprisonment rates of Indigenous people, with a focus on addressing mental health and disability.
First Peoples Disability Network CEO Damian Griffis agreed, saying the mental health sector needs to be better resourced in Australia.
“The mental health sector is a poorly resourced sector across all Australia and it’s particularly acute across regional and remote Australia,” he said.
“So we talk about things like you kind of need to have your psychotic episode on the fourth Thursday of the fourth month when the mental health team is in town, otherwise you can forget about it.
“You won’t get any meaningful support, in fact you’ll be criminalised and put in a paddywagon and end up in prison.
“That’s a very common experience.”
But Mr Griffis said it’s not just mental health that needs to be addressed – he also wants to see a commitment to resourcing the disability sector.
“We need greater investment in Aboriginal owned and operated responses, and not just in the mental health space,” he said.
“They need more resourcing to do the critical work that they do, and we need that in the disability sector too.
“It’s not just about mental health or psychosocial disability, it’s also about supporting our community that have cognitive disability.
“There are very high rates of Aboriginal people that have cognitive impairments or what’s sometimes referred to as intellectual disability in Australian prisons.”
In fact, Mr Griffis said 42.8 per cent of Indigenous deaths in custody had a mental health issue or a cognitive impairment.
“We would be pretty certain that figure may even be a conservative one because it’s often common that Aboriginal people with disability in prison don’t necessarily have a diagnosis and certainly, when they’re in prison, they often lack support around their disability,” he said.
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