20 years on from a death in custody royal commission


THE 20th anniversary of the release of the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is almost upon us. The majority of its 339 recommendations have still not been implemented by state and territory governments.

The incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders continues to grow. It is a national disgrace and has reached such epidemic proportions that no state or territory in Australia now jails black males at a rate less than Apartheid South Africa in 1993, when the Apartheid regime collapsed.

In Western Australia, for example, black males are jailed at a rate eight times greater than South Africa. The rate in NSW is more than five times greater, and Aboriginal youth make up more than 80 percent of prisoners in the west of the state.

While this issue may have gone off the corporate media radar, and that of politicians from both major parties, Tracker magazine is committed to covering death in custody issues in depth every month, every year. And we’re not alone.

WA Greens Senator Rachel Siewert continues to draw attention to the issue – her home state, after all, has the highest rate of Indigenous incarceration anywhere on earth. Senator Siewert moved a motion in the Senate on March 24 which noted the 20th anniversary of the Royal Commission falls this month – on April 15.

Her motion drew attention to the “increasing and alarmingly high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, who are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated and represent 26 percent of our prison population, despite representing less than three percent of our (mainstream) population.”

The motion noted that the rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people increased between 2000 and 2010 from 1,248 to 1,892 prisoners per 100,000 adults, as compared to a change from 130 to 134 non-Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adults.

Senator Siewert raised her concerns at the “continuing disproportionately high rates of deaths in custody of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

She noted there had been 269 deaths in custody since the release of the Royal Commission report in 1991, “nearly one in five of all deaths in custody”.

The motion expressed concern the majority of the Royal Commission’s recommendations had yet to be fully implemented and called on the federal government to consider the outcomes of current reviews underway into the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission; to undertake to report on progress and gaps; and to map out further action.

She also called on the Federal Government to work with the states and territories to undertake an audit of standards and independent monitoring of places of detention and to consider options to promote consistency across jurisdictions.

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