Deaths in Custody: Action on Justice Needed

 In Media Release, News, Reconciliation Australia

“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are alienated from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.” 

These words from the 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart could have been written at any time in the past 30 years—at any time since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody released its final report in 1991.

30 years on, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up almost 30% of the total Australian prison population, while comprising just over 3% of the general population.

The fundamental driver of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody is still the significant rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia.

There will not be a reduction in deaths in custody until the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people stops.

Unfair laws and policies are still in place that disproportionally target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, like laws that allow children between the age of 10 and 13 to be sent to prison, and mandatory sentencing.

The 2021 State of Reconciliation in Australia report emphasises that acting on the many justice issues that have been the subject of significant government inquiries, must be a priority in order to improve the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, government, and government institutions. This includes:

  • Addressing justice issues like over-incarceration, rates of family violence, and children in out-of-home care that have a devastating impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, families and communities.
  • Governments, working in genuine partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, must address each of the social and economic gaps impacted by these issues.

According to the Guardian Australia’s Deaths Inside database there have been 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have died in police and prison custody since the Royal Commission.

The Royal Commission’s recommendations provide the answers. More work must be done by federal and state governments to properly resource and oversee proper implementation of these recommendations.

This report led to the nation’s first formal reconciliation process between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the broader community with the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation. Reconciliation Australia continues this work today.

Reconciliation Australia supports the aims of the Change the Record campaign, and reaffirms earlier calls for governments to Raise the Age by raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years for all offences.

Actions on the 30th Anniversary of the Royal Commission’s report release

Email your State MP to change the laws that disproportionately push Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and children, into prisons. Also ask them to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations, and for independent oversight and accountability that could save lives.

Join the call to #RaiseTheAge of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14.

Help to strengthen communities and young people through Amnesty’s Community is Everything Indigenous youth inequality campaign.

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