Caring for the Incarcerated is investigating the history of prison health services in New South Wales – one of the oldest penal health services in the world. Those in custody have overwhelmingly been drawn from the most disadvantaged groups in society and consequently have had, and continue to have, among the highest health needs in our community.
This is a collaborative, interdisciplinary project involving academics from across UOW as well as external partners – particularly the NSW Justice Health & Forensic Mental Health Network and the Black Wallaby Writers group of the South Coast Writers Centre – who are also the project’s Indigenous advisory group.
My contribution to this project will focus on how imprisonment operated as a defining feature of Australian settler-colonialism – for both settler but particularly Indigenous populations.
As with postcolonial societies around the world, Australia has hugely disproportionate rates of incarceration of Indigenous people, particularly of young men. As of 30 June, 2016 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for just over a quarter (27%) of the total Australian prisoner population. (despite being only ~2-3% of the Australian population). Although few Aboriginal people were imprisoned in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the broader history of confinement (on missions, reserves and other institutions) is highly implicated in the high rates of Aboriginal imprisonment today. Many Indigenous communities view the shatteringly high rates of contemporary incarceration as a continuation of past invasion and policies of confinement and control that had such a devastating impact.
This work is supported by a University of Wollongong, Global Challenges Grant.