• “Mentally ill Aboriginal people shouldn’t be in jail, they should be in secure and appropriate health facilities.” (Flickr)Source: Flickr
An intellectually disabled Aboriginal man in prison is given keys to play with, he escapes, steals a car, crashes it and is recaptured, but this information isn't released until nine months later. Michael Gunner says it's a clear failure of the system.
Laura Morelli

19 Jan 2018 - 3:23 PM  UPDATED 19 Jan 2018 - 4:32 PM

An intellectually disabled Aboriginal man let himself out of a Northern Territory prison, stole and crashed a car before being recaptured — all after allegedly being handed keys ‘to play with’ by a staff member. This was nine months ago, but it has only come to light this week.

The incident has highlighted the failure of several NT government departments to follow due process. 

Chief Minister Michael Gunner told NITV News serious incidents like these must be made public immediately, not nine months later.

"This is clearly a failure of the system."

"Many officers from the Departments of Health, Corrections and Police were aware of the incident when it happened so this is clearly a failure of the system," Mr Gunner said.

Minister for Health Natasha Fyles has ordered a critical incident review which recommended a staff member always be present at the facility on weekends.

"Minister Fyles responded swiftly to the incident requesting urgent briefings from both departments and ordering a critical incident review to identify where the system fell down. Two staff have also resigned over this incident," Mr Gunner said.

"We have asked that protocols about informing the public be improved to ensure this doesn't happen again."


Malcolm Morton stabbed his uncle to death when he was 14 and has been held in the jail's maximum security wing since 2009 after a judge found him unfit to stand trial.

In 2016, the UN Human Rights Council heard complaints about Morton's restraint, isolation and sedation while behind bars.

Mr Morton had been granted day release to a secure health unit adjoining Alice Springs jail but his legal guardian wants him provided with disability care and released from prison. He is subject to a Custodial Supervision Order which should have included constant supervision.

David Woodroffe, the principal legal officer with the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency fears those who are most vulnerable in our community are not getting the appropriate support – especially when mental health impairment is in the equation.

“It’s been a long-standing concern of NAAJA that there is still no appropriate treatment facility for unfit and mentally ill people who are kept in prison; in some occasions even maximum security prisons,” Woodroffe explained.

“Prisons are not the appropriate place for the most vulnerable in our community for people with mental health impairment.”

Woodroffe says people shouldn’t be in jail, they should be held in secure and suitable health facilities. 

“Prisons are not the appropriate place for the most vulnerable in our community for people with mental health impairment.” 

“The main thing is there really needs to be an appropriate health facility, trained to care for Aboriginal people with mental illness and impairment rather than prison.”

In a statement from a spokesperson from the Office of the Attorney-General and Minister for Health they said Territorians want and deserve safe, vibrant and inclusive communities.

"That’s why the Territory Labor Government is working to provide a range of high-quality services that strike the balance between the needs of vulnerable people and community safety."

"Mr Morton is one of a number of people who are under a Custodial Supervision Order under Part IIA of the Criminal Code and is under 24/7supervision."

"Mr Morton is also under a joint guardianship arrangement, which means there are increased confidentiality issues around sharing any of his criminal, medical or personal information."

Indigenous incarceration 

There’s no denying that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are Australia’s most disadvantaged group across the country.

Indigenous people make up 27 per cent of the national prison population, yet only about three per cent of the overall population. The number of Indigenous prisoners behind bars continues to increase and their risk of being put there is 13 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.

In the Northern Territory alone, around 85 per cent of prisoners are Indigenous.

NITV News is awaiting comment from NT Health autorities on the case.

With AAP

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