Introduction: Today on national Close the Gap day, the Public Health Association of Australia released a statement about the rising rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, detailing how it is a serious public health issue and human rights violation linked to ongoing systemic racism and discrimination in Australia.
In the article below, Dr Michael Doyle, a Bardi man and Co-Convenor of the PHAA Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Special Interest Group states the reality of the problem and calls for Closing the Gap to adequately address justice health.
In prisons, the imprisonment Gap grew in the pandemic year of 2020 – while non-Indigenous imprisonment actually fell sharply.
Looking at the Australian Bureau of Statistics Prisoners in Australia 2020 report, at first glance you see the number of people in prison in Australia decreased on 30th June 2020 to 41,060, down from 43,028 on the 30th June 2019. On closer inspection, one can see there was a decrease of 2,261 or ~7.3% in the number of non-Indigenous people in prison, but there was actually an increase of 226 or 1.9% in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison.
In 2020, there was a concerted effort to reduce prison numbers because of COVID-19. There is good reason for this effort, because in the United States there were prisons where almost the entire prison population, including staff were infected with COVID 19 in a short period of time.
Much to the relief of the individuals who could have been at increased risk of COVID if they went to prison, Australia was largely successful, except in the case of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
During 2020 the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement bloomed, with protests around the world and in Australia. The BLM movement in Australia aimed to bring attention to social injustice including the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In response, to the call for change, public and private organisations around Australia made statements to support the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
All the statements and all of the efforts made through 2020, including a planned public health measure to reduce the number of people in prison due to COVID-19, have been met with an almost 2% increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison.
What will it take for Australian governments to make change happen?
And, when will stronger justice targets be included in Closing the Gap?
Image credit: Amnesty International