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Hear the cries of this mother and baby – and a call for better justice for Aboriginal health

The omission of justice targets from the Closing the Gap framework for improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander wellbeing has been called inexplicable – and many are disappointed the Federal Government has dropped plans to introduce such targets. 

The over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples is a critical health issue in so many ways, as illustrated below by Debbie Kilroy OAM MLB, CEO of Sisters Inside, a community organisation that advocates for the human rights of women in the criminal justice system.

***

Unpicking some of the impacts of structural and systemic racism and sexism

Debbie Kilroy writes:

The treatment of criminalised and imprisoned women and girls is deteriorating rapidly in Australia.

The Productivity Commission’s report on Indigenous disadvantage, which showed a huge jump in the number of Indigenous people being imprisoned and in the numbers self harming, is an indictment on us all, but the information isn’t new.

The prison system hides behind thousands of pages of law and polices that suggest women prisoners are treated fairly and with dignity, and that they are in prison to protect the community.

This is what makes it difficult to expose the raw reality of women and girls’ exposure to systematic breaches of human rights on a daily basis behind bars.

The prison system can cover up, side-step the truth, create smoke and mirrors. The prison system feeds into the rhetoric that we as advocates are just misleading the community, hysterical and even liars.

The recent cover up and diversionary tactics of the prison system in Queensland concerned the access of a newborn baby to his mother’s breast milk.

This baby boy was removed from his mother just days after his birth and placed in care. His mother was returned to prison and both were denied the right to spend these vital weeks in the purpose-built cells for mothers and babies.

Instead, the prison system and child safety facilitated the removal of this little Aboriginal boy and he was placed in foster care. His mother was given a mattress on the floor of a cell, due to overcrowding.

I cannot imagine the trauma this young mother is experiencing, the grief and loss. However, I do understand the trauma of having my children taken from me when I was sentenced to a term of imprisonment thirty years ago, and that was unbearable.

This young mother is still producing breast milk and she wants to continue to provide breast milk for her baby. Once again the prison system and child safety passed the buck back and forth to each other and no breast pump was supplied to the mother.

Sisters Inside acquired a breast pump and took it straight to the prison for the young mother. On arrival we were told the breast pump would not be accepted as the woman did not fill out a form – red tape and policies used again to block access to something as basic and vital as a breast pump.

When are the best interests of a newborn baby taken into account?

The prison system talks the talk, but side-steps action when the reality arrives.

It took an email from Sisters Inside to the general manager of the prison asking that the decision be overturned before we could take the breast pump back for the mother.

However, we don’t have confirmation that she has actually received the pump and we won’t until we see the young mother again.

Our concern is that the prison system may not allow us access to her again because we have made this issue very public and exposed the abuse inflicted on mother and child.

The prison system’s response to date is that I do not have the whole story, and they couldn’t discuss it further because of ‘privacy’. The question isn’t about the whole story or privacy.

The question is: why wasn’t a new-born baby and his mother given permission by the prison system to access the mothers and babies unit, considering she has under a month before release?

Why didn’t the prison system and/or child safety provide a breast pump for the young mother, given their policies state that such a decision is made in the best interests of the child?

Why are so many Aboriginal mothers and babies denied access to the mothers and baby units in women’s prisons? Why are the vast majority of mothers in prison with newborn babies not supplied with breast pumps, bottles and refrigeration for breast milk?

This issue is about a newborn baby and the treatment of the baby by the Government that beat their chests with pride about the best interests of children but don’t ensure the best interests of children are complied with when it comes to babies born in prison.

It is about the removal of another Aboriginal baby, the new stolen generation at the dirty hands of the State hiding behind unjust laws and policies.

To all those shocked by the Productivity Commission’s findings, I would say: this is where it starts. A baby removed from his mother, denied even her breast milk in a plastic bottle. Fast-forward to where this mother and this baby boy might be in ten, fifteen years. Go on, think about it.

I must put on the record now that when women and girls inform me of the trauma they experience behind bars, I believe them.

I don’t believe the cover up with which the prison system tries to minimise the women’s and girls’ experiences of violence and abuse at the hands of the system.

I believe Aboriginal women and girls when they say they experience daily racism in prison. I believe women and girls when they say they experience sexism and misogynist treatment daily in prison.

Aboriginal women are the most over represented group in the prison population.

In the last decade, Aboriginal women’s imprisonment rates have increased by 58.6% whereas non-Indigenous men’s prison population has increased by 3.6%.

The data clearly exposes the structural and systemic racism and sexism in laws and policies. Put this together with the fact that over 85% of women in prison are primary care givers of children, and the Commission’s findings are no surprise at all.

 

Comments 16

  1. graybul says:

    An individual racist . . is a warning. A racist State . . threatens every citizens’ individuality!

  2. JennyWren says:

    I had a few days off and binge-watched on SBS on Demand the excellent First Contact 3 part series yesterday following up with a great Insight with Stan Grant. I was blown away by the series, it was absolutely compulsory viewing for every non-indigenous Australian. I would go so far to say that every front line worker who has contact with Aboriginal communities should undergo a similar experience (I know the costs would be huge, but worth it).
    The thing that got me was the part they filmed in the WA prison where most of the aboriginal inmates were there for driving offenses! Just unbelievable!
    We certainly have a long road to go in terms of being a just society and we have definitely taken a few steps back in the past few years.

  3. Simon Glen says:

    White women also face this kind of treatment just after giving birth. In Queensland, an average of one baby is removed at birth each week, and some of those mothers are inside. For the record Lindy Chamberlain was treated the same way. Nevertheless, it is disgusting and destructive.

    And, incidentally while a primary care giver to my 7-year-old child (I had been her sole parent since her birth) I was sent to prison for three months. I am male. She was placed in foster care. Again, it is destructive.

  4. Norman Hanscombe says:

    Once again an important issue is twisted to look for ‘racist’ bias.
    It follows a pattern set by the Deaths in Custody Enquiry which found there was no link between indigenous background and death rates in custody, but till this day faux progressives and easily influenced persons who lack the statistical understanding or inclination to check the facts continue to rabbit on about what ‘evil’ Australia has done.

  5. Rais says:

    Simon (3) and Norman (4). Don’t misunderstand. The racist aspect is the abnormally high rate of indigenous incarceration in Western Australia. One of the many causes of this is the W.A. government’s expensive and destructive practice of locking people in jail for non payment of fines. This mainly hits the poor, who cannot pay, and therefore especially hits indigenous people who are usually poor.

  6. Norman Hanscombe says:

    Rais, if racism is to have ANY intellectual meaning, it covers actions to discriminate either against or for particular groups.
    As for whom laws affect, it’s unfortunate the bleeding hearts who inadvertently can sometimes do various disadvantaged groups more harm than good lack the ability to (or interest in?) understand the difference between correlation and cause or the role of factor analysis rather than simple correlations.

  7. graybul says:

    Norman! ” . . . easily influenced persons who lack the statistical understanding . . . ” and, ” . . . if racism is to have ANY intellectual meaning . . . ”

    When it comes to emotional, visceral issues that transcend or directly attack another individuals intimate need to believe in the self . . well frankly, a command of statistics or grasp of an intellectual context . . simply won’t ‘fly’.

    Racism is a universal sickness residing within humanity. Not one individual is incapable of identifying a racist gesture or assault. Aboriginal people(s) cop more than their fair share and, if you have lived within their communities you will have also copped your share.

  8. Norman Hanscombe says:

    Graybul, you say, “When it comes to emotional, visceral issues that transcend or directly attack another individuals intimate need to believe in the self — a command of statistics or grasp of an intellectual context simply won’t ‘fly’.” I don’t think you meant to say that but just in case, here’s the flaw in your ‘argument’.
    The key issue isn’t about what the role of stats and intellectual concepts might be in analysing how ANOTHER person deals with complex emotive issues, but rather how well WE are able to use them when a question involves our own strongly held beliefs.
    Your simplistic assertion “Racism is a universal sickness residing within humanity” hardly adds to any meaningful analysis of the problem you believe to be there. Your assertion “Not one individual is incapable of identifying a racist gesture or assault” is laughable. Were that true, the world would indeed be a far simpler place. Just look at the conflicting interpretations surrounding us every day. Surely even you can’t believe all those disagreeing with your ‘truths’ are lying?
    Having lived in diverse communities, and having experienced sometimes quite vicious attacks from True Believers in a range of noble causes, I’m able to empathise with those who’ve suffered discrimination, real OR imagined; but I’ve also had the good fortune to have been better prepared than those whose judgements are swamped by hubris for causes they hold dearly, including popular postmodern causes such as no matter what we’ve received we deserve more, and we deserve it sooner.

  9. graybul says:

    Norman, Is not the nub of Kilroy’s article that numbers of Aboriginal persons in the State of Qld., specifically within the “CARE” of Dept. of Correctional Services [are exposed to actions, or inactions] that may be interpreted by reasonable persons as being unjust?
    Equally, is it not reasonable or at least understandable that depriving, withholding or denying an incarcerated, new Aboriginal mother the right, need to breast feed her child, or at least have access to a breast pump, might be seen as a racist action rather than administrative?

    My truth is that racism exists. My truth is that the State of Qld should not exploit delaying tactics to the detriment of those in their care. My truth is that factually, statistically the State of Qld has an extended record of abuse against Aboriginal persons from Settlement to the current day. My belief is that racist abuse is so corrosive because emotionally, more so than intellectual, it destroys belief in self.

    “Surely even you can’t believe all those disagreeing with your truths are lying”?

  10. Norman Hanscombe says:

    Graybul, of course I believe there are such persons there and elsewhere who are treated unjustly, and the action mentioned can be interpreted as unjust. That doesn’t mean, however, posters are correct when they rabbit on about imagined widespread racist actions by Governments. This ill-informed outrage is also ill-advised. The untrue claims about the Black Deaths in Custody Report are an example. False claims about what the Report did NOT discover were (as you might say) “so corrosive because emotionally, more so than intellectual, it destroys belief in self”.
    Of course racism exists; but it includes racist actions by minorities which fervent bleeding heart apologists are incapable of recognising. For them any contrarian position can spark frenzy on their part, so the resultant furore isn’t a surprise.
    Naturally I don’t believe all those disagreeing with my arguments are lying. When one looks at human history which includes so many people genuinely believing the Earth was flat, the Children’s Crusade was part of God’s plan, and Marx had a solution for all the planet’s problems, assuming someone is lying is fraught with risks.

  11. graybul says:

    Norman, seems like we have found some middle ground? Aboriginal persons . . as with other minorities/majorities, from time to time, exhibit racial behaviour. Factual, as have experienced such as an individual living within a majority.

    This view however, does not weaken or enhance the view that Government Entities also engage through the personal/institutional beliefs of employees in racial abuse. Further, that in doing so, they may enjoy a certain ‘protection’ due to political oversight.

    Individuals within community do practice/exhibit racist behaviour [and therefore must be held accountable]. Employees of a State entity however, fall into a different compartment of accountability. Why, because the State seldom permits or requires the “face” of the perpetrator to be be revealed, ensuring a lack of accountability of either individual or Entity. ie Instance sexism within the Military!

  12. Norman Hanscombe says:

    Graybul, it’s racist not racial behaviour we’re discussing. As for Government Entities, the aspect I’m suggesting is that insufficient attention is paid to how faux progressives applaud when this discrimination is in favour of their favoured ‘special’ group recipients. The “protection” you mention which Governments receive when they discriminate against favoured groups comes primarily from the media’s caution re pointing out such favoured discrimination.
    You mention sexism in the Military, and it is a problem; but do you include special allowances made for some based on their sex?

  13. graybul says:

    Correct, slip of keystroke(s) Apology! The problem with”insufficient attention paid . . . . ” is that it raises “In the eye of the beholder . . . ” judgement; and I fear if we go there this exchange could turn into a book. Thank you for sharing.

  14. Norman Hanscombe says:

    graybul, it’s been a rare pleasure to find someone with whom complete agreement may not be probable, but nevertheless there could be a non-emotive analysis of ideas. If only it could become a contagious virus on the internet?
    Tomorrow I’m off to the big smoke to purchase another ten analytically sound books for donations to schools where I feel confident in the relevant staff members.

  15. GideonPolya says:

    This was an appalling event and is just the tip of the iceberg of abuse of Indigenous people and of Indigenous mothers and children in particular in racist, look-the-other-way Australia.

    The remaining huge diversity of Australians Aboriginal cultures and languages (150 surviving out of a pre-1788 total of 750 and all but 20 of those remaining endangered ) should be the pride and joy of a decent Australia but instead the bottom-of-the -barrel, racist and mendacious State and Federal Coalition pushes an agenda of Aboriginal disempowerment, Aboriginal removal from ancestral lands, Aboriginal child removal from their mothers (that is now at record levels) , Aboriginal Genocide and Aboriginal Ethnocide.

    There are about 2,000 annual avoidable Aboriginal deaths out of a population about 670,000 Indigenous Australians (an avoidable death rate as a percentage of population of 0.4% pa, similar to that in impoverished South Asia; it was 1.8% pa in 2000, twice that in sub-Saharan Africa).

    Aborigines are far worse off than White Australians in relation to housing, health, wealth, social conditions, imprisonment, avoidable death and life expectancy (see Gideon Polya, “Film Review: “Utopia” By John Pilger Exposes Genocidal Maltreatment Of Indigenous Australians By Apartheid Australia”, Countercurrents, 14 March, 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya140314.htm ; Gideon Polya, “ Ongoing Aboriginal Genocide And Aboriginal Ethnocide By Politically Correct Racist Apartheid Australia ”, Countercurrents, 16 February 2014: http://www.countercurrents.org/polya160214.htm ; “Aboriginal Genocide” : https://sites.google.com/site/aboriginalgenocide/ ; MacRae A, Thomson N, Anomie, Burns J, Catto M, Gray C, Levitan L, McLoughlin N, Potter C, Ride K, Stumpers S, Trzesinski A, Urquhart B (2013). Overview of Australian Indigenous health status, 2012: http://www.healthinfonet.ecu.edu.au/health-facts/overviews ).

    Utterly unforgivable was the racist Coalition removal (with racist Labor Right support) of Indigenous Australians in the NT from the protection of the 1975 Racial Discrimination Act. Decent, anti-racist Australians will utterly reject the racist and ethnocidal Coalition, vote 1 Green and put the Coalition last.

    Indeed the World at some point will apply Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) against a genocidally racist Apartheid Australia of the kind that were successfully applied against neo-Nazi Apartheid South Africa and are being applied by decent people world-wide today against genocidally racist, democracy-by-genocide, Lib-Lab Australia-backed, neo-Nazi Apartheid Israel.

  16. Norman Hanscombe says:

    GideonPolya, what’s truly “appalling” your knowledge of history, human nature, and other disciplines where even a rudimentary background would help you understand events in the complex world outside your noble prejudices.
    It’s well-intentioned outbursts like yours which do more harm to groups needing help than any redneck could ever achieve. They won’t, as you seem to dream, encourage other Nations to join your crusade to deal with Australian Governments which (fortunately for our citizens) decline to adopt your views.
    I accept you mean well; but so did those who thought the Mediaeval Children’s Crusade would liberate Jerusalem. Even the Greens at their worst don’t usually endorse such bizarre crusades.

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