Deaths in custody are unacceptable and preventable

Deaths in custody are unacceptable and preventable

Tuesday, 13 April 2021

The 30th anniversary of the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody is a time for all governments to make concrete changes to reduce the over-imprisonment of First Nations people.

‘Over the last month four First Nations people have died in custody taking the number since the findings of the Royal Commission, to over 470 deaths. There is understandable anger and sorrow in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities about the lack of progress since the release of the Royal Commission’s report in 1991’, said our CEO Louise Glanville.

‘All parts of the justice system have a role to play in truly supporting Aboriginal people’s self-determination, working with and empowering community-controlled organisations and moving to genuinely reduce interactions between Aboriginal people and the law’, she said.

Our Associate Director of Aboriginal Services, Lawrence Moser said ‘Too many Aboriginal families, including my own, have received the worst phone call they can experience, informing them about the death of a loved one in a police cell or prison. It is hard to put into words the effect of these deaths, which are often compounded by the history of colonisation and policies that tore families apart and a lack of accountability from responsible agencies.’

‘We often get stuck talking about systems and reports. But I urge everyone to stop and to put themselves in the shoes of the 470 families who have lost brothers, sisters, mums and dads this way. The pain does not go away. For true healing, we need to see these numbers fall and for all the Royal Commission’s recommendations to be fully implemented,’ said Lawrence.

Every year, we see thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander clients whose legal problems could have been avoided if they had access to health and social supports. We also see them charged or refused bail for minor offences such as stealing a soft drink, that can lead to time in prison.

‘It is time to listen to the solutions proposed by Aboriginal-controlled organisations, and the evidence that early intervention, health-based responses and diversion from the criminal system, will prevent future deaths in custody,’ said Louise.

‘For our people, contact with police and courts starts too early and the label of criminal is applied too easily,’ said Lawrence. ‘Raising the age of criminal responsibility is a clear and sensible step governments should take to let our kids have a childhood free of the arm of the law,’ he said.

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