Black deaths in custody in Australia

Black deaths in custody in Australia

29 years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody published its final report. It essentially found that Aboriginal people are more likely to die in custody than white Australians because they are arrested and jailed more frequently.

Currently, over 1 in 4 of all people in prison in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.   

So 28% of our prison population is ATSI despite the fact that only 2.8% of our population is.  Three-quarters of these prisoners have been imprisoned before.

The Royal Commission made 339 recommendations, including that imprisonment should only occur a last resort. Since their report was published 439 more black deaths have occurred in custody. Only 64% of the Commission’s recommendations have been fully implemented.

When we look at the proportion of men in jail, 4.7% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are in jail compared to just 0.3% of the rest of the male population.

In NSW since 2013, there has been a 49 per cent increase in ATSI women in jail compared to just 6 per cent among non-Indigenous women. An Aboriginal woman in NSW is thus 21 times more likely to be imprisoned. 66% of these women have children. 31% of these had children under 6 years old.

An Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young person between the age of 10-17 is  22 times as likely to be in detention as a non-Indigenous young person.

So what we have is very young Aboriginal and Torres Strait children being more likely to have a mother in jail than non-ATSI children. Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander teenagers more likely to be in detention than non-ATSI ones. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and men dramatically more likely to be imprisoned than non-ATSI ones. And as a consequence of these much higher rates of incarceration, there are many more deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in custody.

And 30 years on from a Royal Commission designed to stop this happening, nothing much has changed. 439 more black deaths in custody since the Royal Commission.

The incarceration rates must change. Or the death rates never will.



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  • Jessica Staines