The recent death of a 16-year-old boy in a high security detention facility in Western Australia, highlights the urgent need for prison reform in Queensland before another life is lost in prison, the state’s peak organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health says.

The Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council is calling for immediate access to prisons to address the lack of cultural safety faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in custody in Queensland.

QAIHC General Manager of Policy and Research Greg Richards says the recent changes to Queensland law overriding the Human Rights Act to allow police watch houses and adult prisons to be used as youth detention centres, have put children at increasing risk of self-harm.

“We’re putting these youth and children into environments which are not therapeutic, they’re not responsive and they’ve either been built for and staffed for maintaining adult prisoners,” Mr Richards says.

“For ourselves at QAIHC and the services that we represent, the community controlled health services, I think we see a role where access to health should be a right for everyone, including in prisons.

“I think the best model of care is really community controlled healthcare. We see a massive opportunity to really rethink the provision of health within jails and detention centres and watch houses as well.

“These are all questions I think we need to rethink how we provide health, particularly with the over-representation Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison, and think about how we build it from a base of community controlled health model delivered by mob for mob who understand.”

He says a community-controlled health model for prisoners such as that used in the ACT and Northern Territory was urgently needed in Queensland.

“We should be adopting the models such as Winnunga in ACT Adult Prisons and Danila Dilba in Darwin Youth Detention around where the core service of health is provided by a safe community controlled health organisation,” he says.

Mr Richards says the tragic death of the teenager in WA shows that Queensland also needs to rethink how it provides health care to children held in adult prisons.

“We should never forget the family of that person in WA, but unfortunately Queensland’s on the same track and there could be families in Queensland who have to suffer as well for, sorry business,” he says.

He says the recent legislative changes in Queensland will inevitably mean more children are detained and for longer periods, and the state risks similar tragedies happening unless community controlled health services are given better access to children in adult prisons, rather having to rely on prison officers to access medical care.

“So I think the time is open now because if we currently go on this path, we’re going to unfortunately see more cases of deaths in custody and unfortunately we’re going to see a higher risk of additional youth deaths in custody in Queensland. And that’s nothing that any of us should be proud of,” he says.

The Queensland Minister for Youth Justice Dianne Farmer has been approached for comment but has not yet responded.