Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.

 

The New South Wales parliamentary inquiry into Aboriginal deaths in custody handed down a range of recommendations on Thursday, including the investigation of deaths in custody by the State’s independent watchdog.

Established in June 2020 in response to the Black Lives Matter movement, the Parliamentary committee handed down their findings on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The report recommended an end to “police investigating police” and that the Law Enforcement and Conduct Commission (LECC) instead investigate any death in custody.

It also called upon LECC to appoint a senior Indigenous statutory officer who can provide judicial and cultural expertise whilst investigating Aboriginal deaths in custody and for NSW to raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14-years-old.

Currently, the age of criminal responsibility in NSW is 10-years-old.

The committee also called for reform of the Bail Act 2013 (NSW) to consider a person’s Aboriginality.

According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Aboriginal defendants are 20.4 per cent more likely to be refused bail.

The committee delivered 39 recommendations that both aim to reduce Aboriginal deaths in custody and the rate of Indigenous incarceration in NSW.

“While many witnesses and stakeholders in the inquiry process are rightly concerned that this report will be just one of many that will be left on the shelf to gather dust, we believe that this report … provides the opportunity to bring about important changes for First Nations peoples,” said Committee Chair and Labor MP, Adam Searle.

The committee also heard directly from families who have lost loved ones in custody, sharing their experiences of the coronial inquest process and their journeys of healing.

The committee echoed a recommendation from the 1991 Royal Commission, calling for the removal of hanging points in prison cells.

In September 2017, 22-year-old Gomeroi man Tane Chatfield died in custody in hospital two days after correctional officers found him hanging in his cell at Tamworth Correctional Centre.

Chatfield’s family spoke outside of NSW Parliament, welcoming the report’s recommendations and calling for action.

“The hanging points are still in Tamworth prison,” said Tane Chatfield’s father, Colin Chatfield.

“If they can’t get the hanging points out, tear the prison down”.

Chatfield said whilst the report was an acknowledgement of what they’d been fighting for “for a long time”, he reiterated the loss the family still suffers.

“What about my son’s son? My grandson — he’s suffering every night,” he said.

“All I want to do is comfort him, hug him, it tears me apart to let him know your daddy is gone, they killed him, he’s not coming back. He does not know what his own father’s voice sounds like.”

The parliamentary committee have also expressed their desire for a separate inquiry into the coronial system and the implementation of the 1991 Royal Commission’s recommendations.

“The fact that governments around Australia, including here in NSW, no longer report on implementation of the royal commission recommendations, and the fact that so many remain unfulfilled, shows that NSW and the country has lost its way on this pressing issue,” Mr Searle said.

“The live question is whether we have the will to find our way back.”

By Rachael Knowles