If you can’t hear properly, communication is inevitably confused. New research indicates that very large numbers of Indigenous prisoners in Australia may not be able to properly hear what police officers and other authority figures say to them.
Inmates prove hearing problems
The 2010 Senate Inquiry – Hear Us: Inquiry into Hearing Health in Australia – said 90% of Darwin Correctional Centre’s Indigenous inmates had hearing loss and/or ear disease.
Subsequently, ear test results from the West Australian metropolitan women’s jail, Bandyup, have backed up the extent of the problems. WA Corrective Services commissioned the tests after concerns about the large number of women who needed treatment.
The results showed almost half of Indigenous imprisoned women have a hearing loss. Of the 104 Indigenous women tested:
- 45 required referral to a GP,
- 13 had burst eardrums,
- seven had visibly scarred eardrums, and
- four had ears that were discharging pus (most likely from chronic suppurative otitis media).
Not being able to hear has a negative impact on a person’s ability to navigate safely through our troubled justice system, in addition to the barriers poor communications pose to schooling and getting/keeping a job. The problem is obvious for people who live with it, but completely unknown for those who don’t.
Awareness of ear disease has rocketed in the last year thanks to the efforts of the Senate inquiry. The test results debunk the age-old belief that otitis media (‘Glue Ear’) is solely a minor ailment, limited to childhood, that occurred in isolated regions.
The test results show ear disease is also a serious problem for Indigenous people in the metropolitan area of Perth (and likely to be the same in other Australian capital cities), and the effects of the disease on ears and hearing can last a lifetime.
Previous research has shown the disease is very prevalent in regional and remote areas and 80%-90% of Indigenous children aged 1-4 years suffer from Otitis Media (OM). These rates are among the worst in the world. A lot of those kids will end up with the more serious and exceedingly painful, Chronic Suppurative Otitis Media(CSOM), recurring indefinitely, which causes lifelong auditory processing impairment and ear defects.
The Senate report said: “The Menzies School of Health Research recently reported that in a recent survey of 29 communities throughout the Northern Territory, 25% of young Aboriginal children had either chronic suppurative otitis media (CSOM) or acute otitis media with perforation; 31% had bilateral otitis media with effusion; and only 7% of children had bilaterally normal middle ears.”
The difficulties of growing up with hearing loss are only just beginning to be addressed, but the implications for a child’s psychological and emotional growth, of growing up with everyday chronic pain, seems to be relatively unchartered territory.
In the regions rife with OM, the rates decrease as kids get older (around 54% of school-aged kids in NT). However, the brain’s auditory link develops at around the age of 2-3 years, creating a battle with impaired auditory processing that effectively lasts a lifetime. Accurate information about auditory processing is still not very widely known and this means the funding, services and support are still limited.
One in ten non-Indigenous female inmates tested had a hearing loss/ear disease, as well. Poor social (plus justice, education, employment, and anything else hinging on communications skills) outcomes are also reflected in the high rates of non-Indigenous inmates with hearing loss, who were also disproportionately represented among the prison test group, compared to the number of women with ear disease on the other side of the fence.
The 2010 Senate Hearing Inquiry recommended that all Australian inmates have their ears examined and their hearing tested and that those found to have a loss should then have the circumstances surrounding their incarceration, such as their offences and their court hearings, investigated by the state Ombudsman to screen for miscarriages of justice.
The Senate identified that there are approximately four (4) million Australians with a hearing loss. So hearing problems affect the entire community…but Indigenous Australians are severely affected, virtually from birth, which reduces their ability to learn and so to have a chance of living ‘normally’.
- reprinted with permission from The Daily Magnet blog: http://thedailymagnet.blogspot.com/
Senate inquiry details: http://www.aph.gov.au/senate/committee/clac_ctte/hearing_health/report/index.htm
Greens media release on WA research: