About The mental health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody


Ed Heffernan - PhD Thesis Review milestone presentation


Professor John McGrath (Principal Supervisor); Professor Harvey Whiteford (Associate Supervisor)


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people experience health inequality and social disadvantage when compared to non-Indigenous Australians, the later includes an incarceration rate 13 times that of non-Indigenous Australians. From a health perspective the most significant contributor to the burden of disease for Indigenous Australians in Queensland is mental disorder. Nearly twenty five years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody highlighted the over representation of Indigenous people in custody and also called for better understanding and treatment of the significant mental health challenges faced by this group. Despite this there had been no systematic research done to describe the prevalence of mental disorder for Indigenous Australians in custody.

This PhD thesis examines what is understood about the interaction between mental disorder and the criminal justice system and describes for the first time the prevalence of mental disorder in a systematic and culturally informed survey of Indigenous prisoners in Queensland. The clinical and policy implications of the findings are presented as are the translational activities that have been informed by these findings.

Brief Bio

Ed Heffernan is a forensic psychiatrist who has worked in custodial settings for nearly twenty years. He is the Director of Queensland’s Forensic Mental Health Services and played a central role in the establishment of mental health services to people in Queensland prisons, courts and watch houses. His PhD arose in this context as it relates to one key clinical question that needed to be understood to help develop mental health services for Indigenous people in custody. He is in the final year of his PhD (PT); he has also completed a Masters of Public Health with the UQ School of Public Health. 


Room 234, level 2 Public Health Building, Herston campus