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The necessity for better prisoner healthcare for First Nation’s People was the centre of a discussion as part of NAIDOC week, this week.

The webinar, conducted by the Australian College of Applied Profession and presented by Nerita Waight, CEO of the Victorian Legal Service Co-operative (VALS), who said in order to achieve much needed care, a health centred approach to issues that are currently handled by police and justice departments was required.

Focusing on issues such as “decriminalising public intoxication, legalising the possession of drugs for personal use and equivalency of healthcare in closed environments like prisons,” Ms Waight drew upon several Royal Commission reports and Parliamentary Inquiries to make a clear case for systemic reform.

Citing a Guardian report published last year, she noted that across the country, Indigenous prisoners who died in custody were three times more likely to not receive required care than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

“The provision of high quality healthcare in prison is essential to them having adequate conditions and treatment in custody, avoiding re-traumatisation and reducing risk factors for re-offending,” Ms Waight explained.

“It is also necessary to uphold the human rights, wellbeing and dignity of people in prison… [they] are completely dependent on the state to provide adequate healthcare.”

Ms Waight said Victoria’s situation was particularly complex and a “patchwork”, with six subcontractors handling healthcare on behalf of the Department of Justice and Community Safety, and those subcontractors themselves subcontracting elements of their services out to other healthcare providers.

“The Department of Health should be providing healthcare in prisons, not the Department of Justice,” she said, while also calling for the full provision of Medicare-funded services to prisoners.

“The lack of transparency around places of detention makes scrutiny of healthcare provisions extremely difficult… I haven’t met a prisoner yet who hasn’t raised with me concerns about the healthcare they are receiving.”

While acknowledging that the challenges for “true justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in this country” were significant, Ms Waight celebrated the resilience of First Peoples and struck a note of optimism about the way forward.

“We have the oldest continuing living cultures on this planet; we’re still here, still thriving, despite all the odds,” Ms Waight said, also alluding to this year’s NAIDOC Week theme, “Get Up! Stand Up! Show Up!”

“Things will change, when we all get up, stand up, and show up for everyone, together.”

NAIDOC Week which takes place every year on the first week of July, this year runs from 3 July to 10 July.

More information on events taking place across the country can be found on the NAIDOC Week website.