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'Shameful': Indigenous deaths in police custody double

Esther Linder -

Indigenous deaths in police custody have doubled since 2007, with grieving families and legal advocates demanding change.

The overall rate of deaths in police custody for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is at its highest in more than a decade, with NSW the most likely place for someone to die while being arrested, held or pursued.

Nationally, 40 people died in the custody of police between July 2022 and June 2023, and 10 of them were Indigenous - five in Queensland, four in NSW and one in South Australia.

There were five Indigenous deaths in police custody recorded in 2007.

Productivity Commission figures released on Monday did not disclose whether the latest deaths occurred in close contact with officers, such as at a station or in a police vehicle, or in custody-related operations such as a siege or pursuit.

Grieving families used Invasion Day protests to call for a change in police tactics and policies to prevent further deaths.

Paul Silva, the nephew of David Dungay Jr, who died in Long Bay jail, told the Sydney rally his mob wanted justice and accountability.

Ashleigh Buckett - an associate legal director at the National Justice Project, which is advising the Dungay family - said the government dragged its heels responding to a royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and needed to change course.

"There have been over 500 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1991, but only a handful of prosecutions," she said.

"The government already has the recommendations to guide its response, the question now is whether it has the will."

Maggie Munn, the national director of advocacy group Change the Record, said discriminatory treatment was costing lives and noted the 1991 royal commission called for arrest and imprisonment as a last resort.

"Every death in custody is an unspeakable tragedy for that person's family, friends and community," they said.

Perceptions of police integrity are at record lows with public belief in the honesty of the force dropping 10 points from a decade ago to 66.5 per cent, the Productivity Commission found.

The notion police "treat people fairly and equally" also sank, with fewer than two in three people agreeing with the statement and all states recording a fall in trust.

The responses, drawn from the National Survey of Community Satisfaction with Policing, also note overall lows in public satisfaction with police services.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were also over-represented in deaths from unnatural causes while in prison (suicide, drug overdoses, injury or homicide), with six out of 15 deaths in 2022/23.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, 70 prisoners died across the nation in the same period, 21 of whom were Indigenous.

13YARN 13 92 76

Aboriginal Counselling Services 0410 539 905

Esther Linder - AAP


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