Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Photograph: Dave Hunt/AAP

Not enough is being done for people while in jail. There are far too many people in prison mentally unwell rather than criminally minded. There are far too many incarcerated for low level offending. When it comes to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples, just about every family has had a family member or close relative incarcerated. From a racialised lens Australia jails Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples at among the world’s highest rates.

Having visited prisons and long worked with ex-prisoners, most of them soon after release, to improve their lot, it is my view that in general people come out of prison worse than when they went in. Trauma – situational, multiple and composite – is the end-result for the majority of the prison experience; particularly for those who were dished up a prison sentence for effectively ‘non-criminally minded’ offences such as fine defaulting. The mentally unwell become more unwell, with many breaking down altogether. Those who went in for low level poverty related offending come out of prison ‘brutalised’ by abuses, fear, anxieties and debilitated in having to fa much the same of what led them into prison. They face a life without secondary and university qualifications, without job skills. They continue on in the harsh reality of poverty and in a society that does not give the poor a break.

The prisons I have visited are the sorriest tales of punitive tribulations, of neglect, of lost and troubled souls. Prisons are not about restorative and rehabilitative practicalities but places with the inmates in the longest queues – begging for education programs, including literacy. Only the few will score participation in the handful of education programs offering the opportunity of qualifications. The unmet need is not just sad but it is disgraceful on the part of governments – State and Commonwealth. More can be done but it is not.

I am not going to argue the economic benefits to society; that it is cheaper to invest in people’s education, training up, in alternatives to incarceration than it is to incarcerate and punish. These arguments disgust me. These arguments indict our national consciousness, our logic and our collective values. The economy should be geared to society and not the other way around. I prefer to discuss and urge moral imperatives instead of framing our values in economical imperatives.

We should be abominated by a society that incarcerates the poorest of the poor, the sickest of the unwell, that effectively punishes minorities because assimilation wants them to give up their cultural being. We should be abominated by this nation where at least one in 10 and up to one in 6 of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders living have been to jail. This horrific statistical narrative should have long ago galvanised the nation to redress the intolerable racialised inequalities, the economic inequalities, the discrimination.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) 86 per cent of prisoners did not complete Year 12. More than 30 per cent did not get past Year 9.

According to researchers Kate van Doreen, Stuart Kinner and Simon Forsyth – “the risk of death is greatly elevated among ex-prisoners compared with the general population.”  They stated, “Although many deaths are drug-related or the result of suicide, little is known about risk and protective factors for death in this population.”

I have long argued that a significant proportion of suicides are of ex-prisoners and in most cases soon after their release from prison. It aches the heart to comprehend that people may have felt more secure while in prison than back in society despite that prison damaged them. The death rates from external causes and suicides of ex-prisoners are themes throughout our world and not confined to Australia. A number of studies estimate that these death rates from unnatural causes are up to 10 times the rates of death while in any year in prison.

Importantly, Kate van Doreen , Stuart Kinner and Simon Forsyth suggest, “young people experience markedly increased risk of death in the year following release from adult prison.”

“This elevation in risk is greater than that experienced by older ex-prisoners. Among young ex-prisoners, the majority of deaths are due to preventable causes, particularly injury and poisoning, and suicide.”

Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander comprise more than one quarter the Australian prison population and standalone their median age is much less than the rest of the prison population. It is estimated that more than 90 per cent have not completed a secondary education. The majority come from the most impoverished contexts. They have little, if any, prospects post-release. I have brought a number of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander ex-prisoners into various educational institutions. Every single one of them took up the offer. Noongar man Mervyn Eades is the director of Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation – an employment training provider for ex-prisoners. Mervyn knows what prisoners go through, understands their lot, having done time himself and Ngalla Maya enjoys a high retention rate among ex-prisoners working towards the pick up a qualification, to be able to legitimately compete for a job.

I am not interested in economic imperatives. I am interested in moral imperatives. It is the right thing to do for us as a society to improve the lot of others. The suicides will be reduced. The unnatural death rates that are damning this nation will be reduced. The impacts from loss and grief on families will disappear. I estimate, though the research is not yet in, that one quarter of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicides are linked in one way or another to ex-prisoners just out of prison – more on this in future articles. In my view a significant proportion of the prison population should not be in prison and instead supported with all sorts of educational and other assistance. Prisoners should not just be locked in those damn cells – instead help them with psychosocial counselling, mentoring, educational opportunities, job training and let us improve their lot. It is a disgrace and an indictment that prisons are missed opportunities for healing, education, the improving of one’s lot. Actually, it’s bullshit.

There is no greater legacy than to improve the lot of others – to the point of truly changing lives, saving lives. Actually, it is easy.


Declaration of impartiality conflict – Gerry Georgatos is a suicide prevention researcher and participatory in several national suicide prevention projects. He is also a prison reform advocate and researcher.


Lifeline’s 24-hour hotline, 13 11 14

Crisis Support and Suicide Prevention Beyond Blue – 1300 22 4636


Other articles and media on the suicide crisis and suicide prevention by Gerry Georgatos:

Child suicides higher than reported

Recovery the focus

40 million life years lost to suicide

Hidden truths – it is worse, not better

Some want to portray things on the improve

Suicide in people numbers instead of comparative rates
Oppression is the cause of the majority of the suicides

It is not a competition but suicide is the leading cause of death

Do not play with peoples’ lives

It is not like me to cry

Call for a national inquiry

Catastrophic suicide crisis will escalate “unless”…

One in ten Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have been to jail

An eleven year old suicides – nine months later his mother takes her life

Understanding the abominable jail and suicide rates

The issue of our time – 1 in 3 deaths by suicide

When the right people lead then lives will be saved

Truth, not lies on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander suicide prevention rates

A moral abomination – a narrative that is racialised; of human suffering and misery

Plato said engage with our politicians or risk being governed by the dumb – the suicide crises

Stop selling resilience 

Another misguided reductionist plan to reduce rates of suicide self-harm

The leading cause of death – for 15 to 44 year old Australians – is suicide | The Stringer

People strengthening people focus on suicide prevention

Understanding difference and unfairness is a first step in suicide prevention | The Stringer

Taboo, stigma and shame need to get out of the way for suicide prevention | The Stringer

Suicide is heading to a humanitarian crisis – it is a leading cause of death | The Stringer

Suicides are preventable – here is what we must begin to do | The Stringer

The extensiveness of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander suicides – 1 in 20 | The Stringer

Preventing suicide – “no greater legacy” | The Stringer

Understanding Australia’s suicide crises

Shame job Australia – they came through the gate with my boy’s body 

Suicides, high among overseas born and second generation Australians

Child suicidal ideation on the increase

It is racism killing our people – suicides born of racism

Kimberley suicide rate – one of the world’s highest – Yiriman is the way to go

My Country – But look how I am forced to live

What will it take to end Aboriginal disadvantage, the inequalities and the various crises?

What sort of Australia is this? Seven homeless children in an asbestos slum

Six homeless children fighting for a better tomorrow

Quality of life for Australians 2nd only to Norway but for Aboriginal Peoples 122nd

Dumbartung convenes suicide crisis summit

Suicide attempts among women on the rise

Australia’s Aboriginal children detained at the world’s highest rates

Culture should not be denied – change needs unfolding, not impost

Everyone in the Territory doing well, except for Aboriginal Peoples

Australia’s Aboriginal children, the world’s highest suicide rate

Wes Morris slams government suicide prevention programs

How many more suicides will it take? How many more deaths?

Hopelessness in suicide riddled communities

More government neglect of Aboriginal children

In identity lay the answers – ATSI suicides

$25.4 billion spent on Aboriginal disadvantage is a lie

Beagle Bay to State Parliament – Farrer speaks out on suicides

Government to address Aboriginal suicides


996 Aboriginal deaths by suicide – another shameful Australian record

996 deaths by suicide – one in 24 die by suicide

Australia’s Aboriginal suicide epidemic – whose child will be the next to die?

77 Aboriginal suicides in South Australia alone

Kimberley’s Aboriginal peoples old at 45 years

Australia, the mother of all jailers of Aboriginal people

Close the gap failed

Despite what’s being reported, life expectancy not improving for ATSI peoples – 1 in 3 dead by 45 years of age

Tumult of death – 400 suicides in last three years

30 suicides in the last three months as we wait for promises to be kept

Suicide crisis – genocidal numbers

Suicide crisis – from tragic to catastrophic

Suicide crisis needs real funding and actions

Hundreds more will suicide if we wait for 2015

Nothing will be done about suicides crisis

Scullion bent on saving lives

Elders across Australia say governments need to listen to them on how to address youth suicide

Suicides – western society and ancient cultures clash

If we are serious about suicide prevention

Australia’s suicide crisis should not be played down – the media must highlight it

From my father’s death bed to the must-do to end the suicides

Governments promise on ending suicides must come good now

More confirmation of what everyone knows, was suicide prevention inadequate

The must-do need to listen and trust if suicides crisis is to end

Working together – mental health and suicide prevention roundtable

Break the taboo around suicides, we reduce suicides

Suicide crises born of Australia’s inhumanity

Suicides – children

Suicides crisis linked to incarceration

Wes Morris urges funding for cultural methodologies

The betrayal of our children – the Northern Territory

New project offers hope to reduce Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suicides

Depression and suicide prevention must be top of the agenda this century

World Suicide Prevention Day – suicide takes more lives than war

Western Australia – 1 in 13 in a jail, a bullshit state of affairs

Forgotten children of the promised land – the fight to save rural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

Yiriman saving lives in the midst of the Kimberley’s suicide crises

Healing Halls Creek

The smaller a community, the less likely a suicide

Overcoming disadvantage report shows disadvantage not overcome

600 Black deaths in custody by 2025 – jail numbers to soar

Get out of the way – Aboriginal suicide rates will drop

A nation shamed when the solution for its children is homelessness

Christmas, a period of vulnerability for many

Stop peddling lies $30 billion spent on Indigenous disadvantage is a lie

To end our trauma government must stop the assault on our people and our culture

In Australia there is the Aboriginal rights struggle

Kirstie Parker, Mick Gooda say enough of fine words – close the gap a big fat lie

Highest child removal rates in the world worse than Stolen Generations

Stop examining the oppressed – instead examine the oppressor 

CAAMA Radio – Speaking out on Aboriginal suicide

Suicide - a catastrophic humanitarian crisis

Cry for Help - ABC News