Government must act on poor prisoner health findings: Greens

Greens spokesperson for corrective services and health Hon Alison Xamon MLC has again raised her concerns about the lack of health services provided to WA prisoners following the release today of Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s (AIHW) report The health of Australia’s prisoners 2018

“This comprehensive report provides further evidence of the significant, complex and largely unmet health needs of prisoners,” said Ms Xamon.

“The research results show the health of prisoners continues to be much poorer than that of the general community, and that: 30% of prisoners have a chronic physical health condition (45% of female prisoners); 40% report a previous diagnosis of a mental health condition (65% of women); 22% have hepatitis C; and 22% had been diagnosed with asthma.”

Ms Xamon said that the report also demonstrated the particular vulnerability of prisoners, with about 1 in 3 prisoners having a high-school education level of Year 9 or lower, and more than 1 in 2 prisoners anticipating they would be homeless on release.

“Without addressing fundamental needs like education and housing it is difficult to see how prisoners can successfully reintegrate into society on release,” said Ms Xamon.

“It is therefore not particularly surprising that 3 in 4 prisoners participating in the study had previously been in prison; clearly showing that we are missing opportunities to address their needs while they are incarcerated, and immediately after they are released.  

In its report the AIHW calls for the health of people in prison to be seen as a public health issue, noting that “improving the health and well-being of people in prison, and maintaining those improvements after prison, benefits the entire community”.

Ms Xamon said that this latest report added to the Western Australian Inspector of Custodial Services’ findings last year regarding poor access to dental services in WA prisons, as well as answers to questions in parliament revealing there were fewer psychologists per prisoner in WA prisons in 2018 than there were in 2015.

“Prisoners are among those with the poorest health in our country, yet they continue to be denied access to Medicare while in prison, and to the level and quality of health care available to the general population”, said Ms Xamon.

“As this report clearly articulates, the whole community suffers when there is such a large and unacceptable disparity faced by a particularly vulnerable group of people.”

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