Professor Juanita Marion Sherwood
University of Technology Sydney
Miss Jocelyn Jones
National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Dr Mandy Wilson
National Drug Research Institute, Curtin University
Associate Professor Marisa Gilles
Combined Universities Centre for Rural Health
Professor Michael Levy
College of Medicine, Biology and Environment, Austalian National University
The ‘Social and Cultural Resilience and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Mothers in Prison’ study is a four-year National Health and Medical Research Council funded project based in New South Wales (NSW) and Western Australia (WA). The project is known by its acronym, SCREAM, in NSW and by its full title in WA. The study has two parts:
The project is a mixed methods study including a social and emotional wellbeing questionnaire, in-depth interviews, focus group interviews, analysis of policy and procedural documents and ongoing stakeholder consultation. The data collection for the project is primarily based in NSW and WA prisons with a female population. In NSW, these centres are: Broken Hill Correctional Centre, Dillwynia Correctional Centre, Emu Plains Correctional Centre, Mid North Coast Correctional Centre, Silverwater Women’s Correctional Centre and Wellington Correctional Centre in NSW. In WA, these centres are: Bandyup Women’s Prison, Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women, Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison, Greenough Regional Prison and West Kimberley Regional Prison.
The outcomes of the research will include specific recommendations for models of care for Aboriginal women in prison and post-release, increased capacity among Aboriginal female researchers in the field of public health and prison health, and recommendations for professional development and skills training among health and correctional workers.
Opportunities for early intervention to prevent fragmentation and disintegration of the family, grief, stigma, financial hardship, and the psychological trauma which leads to offending behaviour will be identified, with the research providing a platform for policy and practice change.
Having established the project advisory groups in NSW and WA and with approval from the seven Human Research Ethics Committees: Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council, Justice Health NSW, Corrective Services NSW, Western Australian Aboriginal Health Ethics Committee, Curtin University, University of New South Wales and University of Technology Sydney, the research is now in Phase Two. The study will conclude in 2014.
Aboriginal women are the fastest growing group within the Australian prison population. At June 2010, female Aboriginal prisoners comprised 30% of the fulltime adult female prison population. The imprisonment rate for adult Aboriginal women was 394 per 100,000 (a 14% rise from 2006) compared with 25 per 100000 for the non-Aboriginal female prison population. Aboriginal women are therefore 16 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal women. By way of contrast, Aboriginal men are 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal men (ABS 2010).
Aboriginal women have been, and continue to be, the main carers and providers in their extended families. The increasing imprisonment of Aboriginal women is therefore a major public health issue for Aboriginal families, communities and society as a whole. One way in which the burden of disease and cycle of incarceration within families can be addressed is by improving health outcomes for Aboriginal mothers and female carers in prison and in the post-release period.
Aboriginal women prisoners suffer multiple disadvantages and face race, gender and health discrimination (Armstrong et al 2005). Further, the health and treatment needs of these women have been overlooked in research with Aboriginal communities and health and justice agencies. This is despite evidence that Aboriginal women being released from prison are at the highest risk of social exclusion, homelessness, domestic violence victimisation and re-incarceration (Baldry et al 2006).
An integrated approach is needed. The ‘Social and Cultural Resilience and Emotional Wellbeing of Aboriginal Mothers in Prison’ project includes Aboriginal mothers, Aboriginal women and a broad range of other stakeholders including health and justice agencies and the families of Aboriginal women who have had contact with the criminal justice system in the research. Taking this approach it will be possible to identify practical steps to reduce health inequalities between Aboriginal mothers and Aboriginal women in contact with the criminal justice system and those in the community. In doing so, the project will address the burden of disease and cycle of incarceration within families by informing culturally safe health care policy and practice.
This study is being carried out by Aboriginal women. Two of the chief investigators are Aboriginal female academics who participated in an advisory group for a NHMRC project grant on the impact of imprisonment on women whilst pregnant. This group agreed strongly that the consequences of imprisonment for Aboriginal mothers, women, children and communities are unique to Aboriginal peoples and a systematic investigation must be conducted.
At the time the logo was painted, the artist was an inmate at Boronia Pre-release Centre for Women (Perth, WA). The artist’s story about the logo was written at that time.
The larger hand on the image belongs to the artist, Natalie. The child’s hand reaching out to hers belongs to her two year old Granny (her niece’s son). He was born in Bandyup Women’s Prison and now resides at Boronia with his mother. Natalie explained that in prison she’s getting the chance to look after her niece’s child, something she didn’t get to do with her children on the outside.
The foot-prints on the logo are the feet of the older children who lead and look after the `littler ones’. The U-shaped symbols represent the women and mothers of these children. Relating to home, are the swirls of the waterholes and Natalie has drawn tracks leading from one waterhole to another. Despite having been incarcerated multiple times she is connected to her country and people. She tells the story of her Granny who, rather than following Boronia’s concrete paths, weaves his way through the beautifully manicured garden beds; “a true Nyungar”, she laughs.
National Health & Medical Research Council - Project Grant, Project ID: 630653