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Grim milestone shows little progress since deaths in custody Royal Commission

Aleisha Orr -

Three decades on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), 500 First Nations people have died in custody.

In the five years leading up to RCIADIC in 1991, an average of 11 Indigenous deaths in custody were recorded each year.

The Australian Institute of Criminology's (AIC) latest report on deaths in custody which looks at the 2020/21 financial year shows 15 Indigenous people died in custody during that period.

The report notes that 12 Indigenous people died in prisons and the other three died in police custody.

According to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS) another 11 Aboriginal people have died in either police custody or in prisons since June.

Currently, 500 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since the Royal Commission.

RCIADIC looked at the disproportionately high rate of Indigenous deaths in custody and made recommendations for actions to be taken in an attempt to prevent further deaths.

Aboriginal people make up just three per cent of the population, yet make up about 20 per cent of these deaths.

"That's 500 of our people - our Elders, brothers, sisters, cousins, parents," NATSILS Executive Officer and Waanyi woman, Jamie McConnachie said.

"All the while, governments continue to stall on urgent action to end these injustices."

McConnachie said governments have not implemented the recommendations from the Royal Commission in a meaningful way.

"They have also not implemented the recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission's Pathways to Justice Inquiry, the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and the many deaths in custody coronial investigations," she said.

"Our people continue, and will continue, to die from failures to implement these crucial recommendations."

"All the while, the burden shifts to grieving family members to push for the change needed to prevent more deaths in custody. The onus and burden of pushing for implementation should be on governments, not families."

She reiterated that the government does not formally track the number of Indigenous deaths in custody, instead relying on the AIC's figures.

McConnachie said accurate and credible data on deaths in custody had been a recurring request from Aboriginal Legal Services.

A spokesperson for the National Indigenous Australians Agency would not comment on the milestone and instead referred to previous statements supplied to the National Indigenous Times.

"The Australian Government remains committed to working with the states and territories, who have responsibility for their justice systems, as well as communities, to improve justice and community safety outcomes for Indigenous Australians," they said in March.

The spokesperson said the Australian Government had implemented 91 per cent of the recommendations from the Royal Commission for which it had "responsibility for".

Just last month a 43-year-old Indigenous man died at Maryborough Correction Centre in Queensland and a 26-year-old Indigenous man who was an inmate at the Shortland Correctional Centre in Cessnock, New South Wales also died.

By Aleisha Orr

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