Date: 
Tuesday 12 April 2011

Male hands grabbing onto the prison bars firmly.

 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are still dying in custody

Too many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are being incarcerated when custody should be the last resort, Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said today.

It’s 20 years since release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but Mr Gooda said there were more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison now than when the RCIADIC reported in 1991.

“The Royal Commission found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died in custody in disproportionate numbers because they were in custody in disproportionate numbers,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“Yet he we are, 20 years later with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people making up around a quarter of our prison population compared to 14 per cent back then.

“It’s well known that if you keep doing the same things you’re likely to keep getting the same results.

“We’ve simply got to stop locking up Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and put our resources and political will into trying proven alternatives like justice reinvestment,” he said.

Justice reinvestment is a criminal justice approach that diverts a portion of funds spent on imprisonment to local communities where there is a high concentration of offenders.

Money that would have been spent on imprisonment is reinvested in programs and services that address the underlying causes of crime in these communities.

“Under a justice reinvestment approach, if there is a connection in a community between crime and drug and alcohol problems, then services are established to address these problems,” Commissioner Gooda said.

The Royal Commission made 339 recommendations on areas as diverse as coronial investigations, policing, education, housing, health, custodial safety and reconciliation, with many of them as relevant today as they were 20 years ago.

“The number of deaths in custody has declined in the last decade, but in my view it is still too high,” he said.

“I’m sure it would be lower still if some of the RCIADIC recommendations had been implemented.

“One hundred and sixty-five Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the Royal Commission.

“In other words, almost one-in-five deaths in custody are of an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander prisoner,” he said.

“Although some are attributable to natural causes, there remain instances where the correctional system and police have tragically failed in their duties.

“Governments have a duty of care to prisoners. We need to make sure that prisons are safe places that are open to review and independent monitoring,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“The Western Australian Inspector of Prison Services is the only such body in Australia which performs this vital role but we need to see this extended to all places of detention.

“Governments must look seriously at innovative models, like justice reinvestment, and they must implement standards and independent monitoring of places of detention.

“We simply can’t wait another 20 years, especially with a continuing escalation in the rate of imprisonment.”