Leading Human Rights Lawyers Call on Morrison Government to Urgently Address the Shocking Statistics on Indigenous Deaths in Custody

September 2, 2018

Guardian Australia’s ‘Deaths Inside’ project has reported that at least 407 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the conclusion of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). 147 of those deaths occurred in the past decade, and 43 of that number were young Indigenous people born after 1991.

The RCIADIC delivered 339 recommendations to government, aiming to reduce the disproportionate incarceration rate of Indigenous people and deaths in custody. 27 years on, and despite further inquiries in several jurisdictions, this newly released data shows that Australian governments have failed to adequately respond to this crisis.

The ‘Deaths Inside’ database compiles the stories of 147 Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people who died in custody between 2008-2018. Their stories are rarely heard, but they reveal important truths about the experiences of Indigenous peoples in the Australian criminal justice system. For example, only 53 per cent of Indigenous people with mental health or cognitive impairment diagnoses received the care they required while in custody. Further, several of the deaths studied could have been prevented with appropriate medical care.

Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) is calling on the new Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, and his government to urgently respond to Indigenous deaths in custody and over-incarceration, including by implementing the outstanding recommendations of the RCIADIC. According to ALHR President Kerry Weste, “the Commonwealth Government must show leadership and require states and territories to ensure that all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody are treated humanely and that they receive all necessary medical and psychological care. Australia has international legal obligations to protect the rights of all prisoners, and ought to adopt restorative justice practices to reduce incarceration rates.”

To arrange an interview with Kerry Weste, please contact Matt Mitchell on 0431 980 365 or media@alhr.org.au