Self-determination key to addressing Aboriginal deaths in custody

By Melissa Coade

April 14, 2021

Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often
‘Too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.’ (Image: Adobe/ Stocker)

The government has been urged to ‘let go of the controls’ by the peak representative legal body in Australia, and let First Nations people come up with the solutions that impact their community in accordance with the right to self-determination.

The president of the Law Council of Australia has used the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to call for the government to ‘let go of the controls’ and allow First Nations people to identify and own the solutions on the issues that affect them and their communities. 

One of the main reasons why so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples die in custody, Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said, was highlighted in the 1991 Royal Commission findings: “too many Aboriginal people are in custody too often.”

“We must establish a national justice reinvestment body and expanded justice reinvestment trials, to redirect prison spending to early intervention and prevention strategies, comprehensive support, and ‘exit strategies’ to transition people out of the prison system,” Dr Brasch said.

“We need increased investment in social support services, including in remote areas, to stop the rapid increase in the number of Aboriginal women imprisoned, and to deal with the underlying reasons children become embroiled in the criminal justice system.”

Recommendations in the ALRC’s Pathways to Justice Report must also be implemented, Dr Brasch added, and more ambitious targets for bringing down incarceration numbers included in a renewed Closing the Gap process.

Since the conclusion of the Royal Commission 30 years ago, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rates are still lamentable —  in 2020 the rate was 2,333 persons per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The imprisonment rate for the adult population generally is 208 persons per 100,000.

“The refreshed Closing the Gap process requires more ambitious targets for reducing incarceration, and clear frameworks and sufficient resources in place to achieve them,” Dr Brasch said. 

She also wants a comprehensive national response to address the vastly disproportionate imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in prison. This includes state and territory-led law reform addressing how bail, parole and mandatory sentencing contributes to over-incarceration.

“We need increased funding for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services and Family Violence Prevention Legal Services,” Dr Brasch added.


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