Research into the health of women and mothers in prison has found a high number of incarcerated Aboriginal women were pregnant, with many giving birth while in prison, according to a study by The University of Western Australia.
The paper, published in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, identified the need to provide more opportunities for primary care in the prison system, particularly for Aboriginal women and mothers.
Adjunct Associate Professor Marisa Gilles from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health has researched prisoner health since 2008.
Her findings revealed that 30 per cent of incarcerated Aboriginal women had been pregnant while in prison, and 20 per cent had given birth while in prison.
Periods of custody also served as a vital time for providing healthcare to women who may not have been engaged with a GP when living in the community, or who hadn’t had a positive experience with health services prior to incarceration.
Dr Gilles’ research showed that one in five Aboriginal mothers in custody had themselves been separated from their families as children by government services. They are typically also young, with 42 per cent aged under 30.
Furthermore, 92 per cent of Aboriginal mothers in custody were current tobacco users.
Dr Gilles said the results suggested a strong correlation between inmates’ mental health, alcohol and drug issues, and violence.
“It is an area of interest for me, particularly with respect to the high proportion of inmates with alcohol and drug issues, the high prevalence of mental health issues, and the history of violence in the lives of women in prison,” Dr Gilles said.
“Not only do prisoners frequently arrive in prison with a number of health problems, they may face higher exposure to some conditions as a result of their incarceration, for example, communicable diseases, mental health issues, and violence.”