This project was initiated by the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (WNAHS) in response to the construction of the ACT’s first prison, the Alexander Maconochie Correctional Centre, which was due for completion and to receive its first inmates in 2008. Through its current work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates at Goulburn and Cooma prisons in NSW, and the Belconnen Remand Centre and Quamby Youth Detention Centre in the ACT, WNAHS recognised the ACT prison opening as an opportunity to improve the appropriateness and effectiveness of health care delivery to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates of custodial institutions.

The aim of this project was to develop a best practice model for the delivery of a holistic health care service to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates of the Alexander Maconochie Correctional Centre and to their families. WNAHS wanted to have this model implemented in the ACT, and further to provide a solid basis to better inform health care practices for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates, their families, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health service providers in the wider custodial environment throughout Australia.

This project formally concluded in August 2007 with the official launch by the ACT Chief Minister of the final main report, community report, and a brochure at WNAHS in Canberra. Outcomes include:

  • During the project, a literature review was completed, co-researcher training was undertaken, community consultation undertaken, interviews and focus groups completed, and a main report and community report prepared.
  • The project highlighted the lack of national and international literature on Indigenous prison health.
  • Strong working relationships were developed between Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (WNAHS) and ACT Corrections and ACT Health during the course of the research study through the Winnunga Prison Health Steering Committee and ACT Health Committee investigating prisoner health needs in the new Alexander Maconochie Centre in the ACT. The Centre will open in August 2008.
  • The research collaboration between WNAHS and its Research Partners (AIATSIS, Muuji Regional Centre for Social and Emotional Wellbeing, The Australian National University, Healthpact Research Centre for Health Promotion and Wellbeing University of Canberra, The Connection, and the CRCAH) in the Winnunga Prison Project lead to WNAHS presenting its key findings at the WHO Commission on the Social Determinants of Health Conference on Indigenous Social Determinants of Health in Adelaide in 2007, the CRACH/PHAA/AIATSIS Aboriginal Prisoner Health Industry Roundtable in Canberra in 2007, and a partnership in a 2008 NHMRC Capacity Building Grant Application for Australia-wide research into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoner health.
  • Former Aboriginal prisoners and their families were respondents in the Winnunga Prison Health Study; and
  • ACT Health reviewed the findings of the Winnunga Prison Health Study with the view of implementing recommendations arising from the research.

The five recommendations from the study relate to:

  1. Incorporation of the Winnunga Holistic Health Care Prison Model (WHHCPM) into the ACT Health prison services delivered at the Alexander Maconochie Centre;
  2. The establishment of a prisoner health communication network between Winnunga and other Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations;
  3. The establishment of a monitoring and evaluation program for the implementation of the WHHCPM – assessing process, impact, and outcomes of the model;
  4. Transference of this new knowledge and understanding by the CRCAH to the health and justice systems in other jurisdictions throughout Australia; and
  5. Further studies be undertaken to help overcome the current lack of an evidence base for Aboriginal prison-related issues in the ACT and Australia.

The project milestones included:

  • Developing the research plan;
  • Securing $100,000 external funding support from Healthpact ACT Health;
  • Ethical approval by the WNAHS Board, MRCSEWB Steering Committee, and AIATSIS Research Ethics Committee;
  • Recruitment of researchers; Implementation of research;
  • Evaluation;
  • Report preparation; and
  • Knowledge transfer.
Related resources:
  • Nerelle Poroch, with support from Julie Tongs, Peter Sharp, Mick Dodson, Steve Larkin, Katja Mikhailovich, Jodie Fisher, Ray Lovett, Kerry Arabena, John Van den Dungen, Jilpia Nappaljari Jones, Leila Smith, Jo Victoria, and Graham Henderson, You do the crime, you do the time: Best practice model of holistic health service delivery for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander inmates of the ACT prison, June 2007, published by Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (ISBN 978-0-98, Canberra
  • By the people who freely gave their stories, You do the crime you do the time: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experience of prison life and afterwards, June 2007, published by Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service (ISBN 978 0 9803945-1-1), Canberra
  • Tongs, J., Chatfield, H. & Arabena, K. 2007, ‘The Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service Holistic Health Care for Prison Model’, Aboriginal & Islander Health Worker Journal, vol. 31(6), pp. 6–8.
  • Tongs, J., Sharp, P., Poroch, N., Fisher, J., Lovett, R., Arabena, K., Larkin, S., Mikhailovich, K. & Henderson, G. 2008, ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health: A case-study of prison health in Australia’, Social Science & Medicine, submitted for publication.
  • Julie Tongs & Harold Chatfield, The social determinants of Aboriginal prison health and the cycle of incarceration and their implications for policy: An Australian Capital Territory case study, paper presented at the Commission on Social Determinants of Health – International Symposium on Indigenous Health, 29-30 April 2007, Adelaide.
  • Adult Corrections Health Services Plan 2008–2012 (March 2008) ACT Health
  • CRCAH Aboriginal Prisoner Health Industry Roundtable, November 2007

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.