Black deaths in custody are a “national crisis” that requires urgent action, says Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe, following reports of two more Aboriginal deaths in custody this week.
Corrections Victoria confirmed a man died at Melbourne’s Port Phillip Prison on Monday night, while in NSW another First Nations man died at the Cessnock Correctional Centre, after being found unresponsive in his cell on Tuesday morning.
The number of First Nations people to die in custody across Australia since the beginning of March has now risen to seven, four of which occurred in NSW.
Gunnai Gunditjmara / DjabWurrung woman and Greens Senator for Victoria, Lidia Thorpe said in a statement: “Another two people dead. More suffering, and more pain. What kind of country asks that its First Peoples bear this kind of pain and trauma? What kind of Government refuses to act in the face of this kind of crisis?
“How is it possible that our people keep dying in custody – 476+ deaths in the thirty years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody – and not a single person or individual has been held to account?” Ms Thorpe said.
“The answers are clear. They’ve been clear for thirty years. This is a national crisis, and until every single recommendation from the Royal Commission is implemented, this will not end.”
NSW Greens MP and Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said there is a deepening breakdown in the relationship between First Nations communities and prison and police authorities in NSW.
“Every First Nations death in custody is an inevitable result of the racist criminal justice system that results in First Nations people in NSW being the most incarcerated people in the world.”
“The Government is on notice and action is urgently required. It cannot be accepted that First Nations people routinely die in custody.”
“This is a crisis and confirms the urgent need to implement all 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody as well as the recommendations of the cross-party committee that reported less than a fortnight ago.”
“Right now, there is also a need to make the coronial process culturally safe for First Nations families so that the seven families who have lost a relative in the last six weeks are not further traumatised and get the answers they need,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Both deaths have been reported to state coroners and are being investigated by police, but head of Change the Record coalition, Sophie Trevitt, says families are being failed by authorities.
“We’ve heard from a range of different families, that have been speaking up for a very long-time – the coronial process is often retraumatising, extremely inaccessible and takes an extremely long-time for families to get answers, if they get them at all.”
Speaking with the ABC, Ms Trevitt said Aboriginal Legal Services frequently provided support and services to families they aren’t specifically funded for and called on the Commonwealth government to provide the funding needed to ensure Aboriginal Legal Services are equipped to provide the support these families need through this horrific time.
NSW & ACT Aboriginal Legal Service chief executive Karly Warner told the ABC, “Australia has failed us, Australia has failed the families.”
“But the good news is we actually have the solutions to stop people dying in custody, they are in a Royal Commission report and we’ve had these solutions for decades, but governments haven’t shown the leadership to turn these ideas into action,” Ms Warner said.
“There is nothing natural about dying in prison or under police supervision. Deaths in custody aren’t inevitable but governments are choosing to turn the other way and let more people die.”
Ms Warner called on all states and territories to establish an independent body completely separate from police and corrective services to ensure investigations are comprehensive, prompt and subject to public scrutiny, and in the case of deaths in custody, involve the family of deceased.
“Without accountability there is no justice, and we are calling for urgent, independent and transparent investigations into these deaths. No Australian jurisdiction has established a system for completely independent investigations of deaths in police and corrective services custody.”