Prison mental health services are failing for Indigenous inmates, report says


MENTAL health services at the Alexander Maconochie Center (AMC) are “ineffective” for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates.

Julie Tongs, CEO of Winnunga.

According to an audit presented today (March 2), Auditor General Michael Harris found a lack of involvement of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander health worker in the prison selection process, meaning that inmates were not effectively screened for mental health issues on admission.

While the report concluded that the agreement with Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services was helpful in guiding service delivery, it said Winnunga had not been effectively integrated into the overall governance structure.

He also found the selection processes for non-Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander inmates to be effective.

Winnunga CEO Julie Tongs said it was another sign of the need for a royal commission into what is happening in the community for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, especially those caught up. in the justice system.

“Why shouldn’t everyone have the same luck?” It just speaks to me about racism,” Ms Tongs said.

“There are no policies and procedures, there are no data. How do they keep getting away with it?

Although the report concluded that the provision of mental health services to inmates considered most at risk (being under psychiatric assessment or for suicide and self-harm) was effective, it stated that the provision of mental health services to inmates with less severe mental disorders was ineffective.

It found that the delivery of culturally appropriate mental health treatment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates “could be improved” by including input from an Aboriginal service provider.

Despite being funded for a total of 16 full-time equivalents, ranging from registered nurses to forensic psychologists, the team currently only has 11.2 FTEs.

The biggest deficit concerns the number of psychologists; only two of the four budgeted positions have been filled as of April 2021. The two psychology positions that have been filled are the most junior positions.

“You have to ask yourself, why can’t they employ psychologists, psychiatrists and mental health nurses in the public system? Mrs. Tongs said.

“We have no problem here at Winnunga employing psychiatrists or psychologists. We do mental health care plans for our clients in the CMA, our psychiatrist can do a Microsoft Teams consultation with a client in the CMA, so there are lots of other ways we can do that.

Nineteen recommendations were listed in the report, covering regular training of guards to ensure effective management and support of inmates, strategic planning developed in partnership with Winnunga to provide culturally appropriate and gender-sensitive mental health services Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees and improved supervision. services provided in the AMC.

“We need to put the spotlight on this place, I think if [people] seeing what really happened in those places, it would give them a glimpse of reality,” Ms Tongs said.

“It’s not just happening in the Northern Territory, it’s actually happening in the Australian Capital Territory.”

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