Aboriginal suicide studies

CSU (csu@brain.wph.uq.oz.au)
25 Oct 1995 08:24:44 -0500

On 18 Oct 1995, A. J. Zolten wrote:

> A request from my collegues down under. I heard on our Natl
>Public Radio program this morning that there is a clear problem
>with Aboriginal Australians who commit suicide after an
>incarceration and that it is related to not having a concept of
> "imprisonment".

I do not have any handy references but recall Joseph Reser of the
Faculty of Behavioural Sciences, James Cook University in
Townsville giving a paper at the 10th International PCP
conference in Townsville. His paper concerned aboriginal
psychology and I recall he had made representation to the Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

My work brings me into contact with a lot of aboriginals who are
referred from custody into the mental health system. A number
of these persons have attempted self harm and I can recall a few
who have died in custody. A problem with generalising about the
concept of imprisonment amongst aboriginals is that there is
great diversity amongst people of aboriginal descent. For
example, many aboriginals are quite urbanised.

I do not know the extent to which tribal justice is still
operative, though I have read of recent attempts to acknowledge
traditional law. I recall speaking to an aboriginal describing
to me a traditional punishment, i.e., spearing in the leg. The
other significant punishment I am aware of is banishment which
I believe is a common form of punishment across indigenous

I do not purport to have any particular expertise in this area
though would suggest the confinement and isolation of
imprisonment (including removal to prisons distant to family etc)
and the over-representation of aboriginals in custody are
significant factors. However, consideration also has to be given
to the significant numbers of non-aboriginals who also suicide
in prison.


Bob Green