The Royal Australasian College of Physicians (RACP) has called for more culturally-appropriate health services for incarcerated Indigenous adolescents following the release of a report showing an increased ratio of Indigenous to non-Indigenous youth in detention.
RACP Paediatrics and Child Health Division president Associate Professor Susan Moloney welcomed the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report on Youth detention population in Australia 2013, which found the rates of young people in sentenced detention had fallen slightly, but was concerned that 1 in 2 young people in detention were Indigenous.
‘Adolescents and young people in the justice system, particularly Indigenous youth, are a marginalised group often beyond the reach of traditional health services who experience poorer health outcomes and disproportionately high levels of disadvantage over that of the general population,’ Associate Professor Moloney said.
‘They suffer a broad range of psychosocial problems and decreased access to healthcare and other systems, and as a result, rank amongst the most disadvantaged groups in the community.
‘We need to provide accessible, innovative and culturally-specific services to incarcerated Indigenous adolescents, as soon as they enter the justice system in Australia and affirm the principles of mutual respect as set out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, to which Australia is a signatory.
‘This includes the choice of accessing services provided by the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation and Aboriginal Medical Services or any other culturally-appropriate service.
“There should be national standards for the provision of healthcare to adolescents and young adults in incarcerated settings in Australia, such as those recommended by the RACP policy statement The Health and Wellbeing of Incarcerated Adolescents.’
Associate Professor Moloney said that more work needed to be done to expedite the process of dealing with juveniles through the various state court systems.
She added that legislative change was needed in Queensland in particular to ensure incarcerated juveniles were not housed in adult prisons as is the current practice with some 17-year-olds.
‘Adolescents within the youth justice system detained in adult prisons should be transferred to juvenile detention centres where they can receive developmentally appropriate services in alignment with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC),’ Associate Professor Moloney said.
‘We urge the Queensland government to remove the reservation placed on the CRC that allows young prisoners in adult prisons in Queensland.’