Australia’s governments must end health discrimination in its prisons. An incarcerated child must not be a second-class citizen. Nor any adult. We must ask, why are our governments dishing the vulnerable jailed, second-class healthcare?
When evaluating the nation’s carceral system, we are unable to make it to the second level of Maslow’s pyramid before encountering a deprivation of the most basic human rights.
There is no worse discrimination than health inequality. Australia boasts about its double trillion-dollar domestic product economy, but when it comes to the health rights of its citizens, not everybody counts.
Australia’s population is 25.5 million people, of which the overwhelming majority are citizens, thus entitled to receive Medicare. Readers may find this hard to believe, but health rights such as Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS), are denied to Australia’s 42,000 incarcerated individuals, of whom thereabouts 1,000 annually are children.
This is disgraceful. This is deprivation of basic human rights.
There has been a long silence about this life-threatening inequality. Where is the outrage? Where are the campaigns? There are only several articles online about this disgrace.
In my work, as a Projects Manager with the National Suicide Prevention & Trauma Recovery Project, I have been part of restorative and transformational projects in prisons. I have seen the effects of the health inequalities, the impact of no Medicare.
I have a visceral memory, conducting a walk-through of a prison medical unit, as part of an independent restorative project, when I encountered a young man begging in agony and desperation, pleading on his knees, for medical help. He had been experiencing severe nerve pain in his mouth for weeks, the pain was debilitating. We addressed this inside the prison and arbitrated a just outcome immediately. He was forever thankful.
I am saddened by the thanks for healthcare we all take for granted. An incarcerated individual must not be a second-class citizen, so why are our governments giving them second class healthcare?
There are endless horror stories – of infections untreated that led to amputations, and worse – death. I will not horrify readers but instead urge we rise in the targeted call for Medicare for all, PBS and access to the NDIS for everyone.
In Australia, do we believe in human rights for all Australians? Or do we take them away when someone is incarcerated? Healthcare is not a gift; it is a right.
The cycle of disadvantage is perpetuated by withholding access to standard healthcare whilst incarcerated.
Think about who comprise the prison population. The poorest, the most vulnerable, the homeless. Many never had a chance from the beginning of life.
Gerry Georgatos, my father, a leading researcher and prison reform advocate, and in general a prisons abolitionist, has long argued that post-release, former inmates, as a categorical population, are among the highest at-risk to suicide and unnatural deaths.
He wrote, “The situational trauma of incarceration is punishment enough, the rest of the deal has to be an opportunity for forgiveness and redemption. Prisons have failed with the punitive and must move away from vile corrals of broken lives smashed into ruined lives, damaged into the irrecoverable. The firmament of punishment is toxic in its narrative of human misery and suffering and in little that is positive.”
Deterrence is one thing and cruelty another thing. Suspending Medicare and PBS access is nothing but torment.
In the end, it is not the prison authorities who take away Medicare, PBS and NDIS access.
Who legislates inequalities? It is our Federal Government. It has been decades of immorality by Federal Governments in suspending these health rights. To argue that the cost is too high in one of the world wealthiest nations is impermissible.
In juvenile detention facilities and in adult prisons right across Australia, the incarcerated are excluded from Medicare and denied the same level of healthcare as the rest of us. They are denied the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS). They are also denied the opportunity to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). Think about this. Federal Governments also deny Medicare to jailed children, as young as 10-years-old.
To think that there are children as young as ten, physically suffering, isolated, in a bleak concreted fragment of reality, without access to proper medical treatment, is unthinkably heart-wrenching. Yet at the hands of our Federal Governments, this is an omitted reality.
Gerry Georgatos once wrote, “Often someone has to collapse before they are bundled out of a prison and to a hospital. I recount an inmate who had to have part of his hand amputated after a coffee kettle incident – he begged for hospital treatment but was denied this for more than a week until the infection that had set in became evident to the naked eye. Paracetamol was all he was given for the throbbing pain.”
So, let us clarify who we need to press to make change. Prisons – whether for adults or kids – are state and territory jurisdictional responsibilities, however Medicare, the PBS and NDIS are federal responsibilities. It will take only minor amendments to federal acts relating to the above to ensure that all prisoners and detainees are protected with Medicare, the PBS and entitled to the NDIS.
The State and Territory Governments need to be systemic advocates for the people.
We are the grassroots, the coalface, the community advocates. State and Territory
Governments are part of the Australian National Cabinet and the COAG (Council of Australian Governments) are the best placed to arbitrate changes.
The Departments of Corrective Services need to put pressure on respective State and Territory Governments.
We must prioritise awareness raising, campaigns. We must be relentless.
To know what is right and not to do it is the worst cowardice.
We must bust for amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973, with the relevant clause in Section 19(2). Government can amend to the inclusion of Medicare and the PBS subsidies for prisoners. Government must also include prisoners in the NDIS who at this time are excluded.
As my mother always tells me, how we treat the most vulnerable is who we are.
Sign this petition – organised by Connie Georgatos – to help make our government bodies aware that we will not sit idly by whilst incarcerated individuals, including children as young as 10-years-old, are being deprived of basic healthcare.
- Connie Georgatos is a youth and homelessness advocate and Project Manager with the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project.