published: 1 April 2021
On March 2, a 35-year-old Aboriginal man died at the Longbay Correctional Centre prison hospital in Sydney. Three days later, a 44-year-old Indigenous woman died at Silverwater Correctional Facility.
Another two days went by and, on March 7, another man died in Ravenhall Correctional Centre in Melbourne. The following week, a 37-year-old Barkindji man died after being pursued by police in Broken Hill — it was March 18. That’s four Aboriginal deaths in one month.
In 1991, the deaths of 99 Aboriginal people between 1980 and 1989 in police or prison custody resulted in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC).
Since the Royal Commission, in which 339 recommendations were made, the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) have reported that over 500 Aboriginal people have died in police or corrective custody.
The report’s recommendations included imprisonment being made a last resort for Aboriginal people, access to adequate medical assistance in prisons, access to appropriate housing and infrastructure particularly in remote communities, decriminalising public drunkenness, the recruitment of more Indigenous people in the criminal justice sector, and more informed drug and alcohol education — amongst others.
Some of these recommendations have never been acted on, and too many Aboriginal deaths can be attributed to this as a result.