Australian deaths in custody: one of the world’s worst records.

The Human Rights Alliance is calling for a Senate Inquiry into Australian Deaths in Custody. April 15 shall mark 20 years since the release of the Final Report and the 339 recommendations from the 1987-1991 Royal Commission into Australian Deaths in Custody.

From 1980 to 2008 there have been 2056 deaths in prison and police custody. During the last two years there have been an additional thereabouts 160 deaths in custody. The annual average of deaths in custody in 1991 was 71, it is now 78, with the last verifiable year, 2008, recording 86 deaths. Suicides totalled 494.

63% of the deaths in custody occur in prisons. People die in privatised prisons at three times the rate they die in government prisons. 4.5 prisoners per 1,000 prisoners die each year in privatised prisons as compared to 1.3 prisoners per 1,000 in government prisons.

Independent bodies must be set up to investigate the deaths of anyone who dies in police and prison custody. Inspectorates demarcated from the Police and Prisons must separately investigate deaths, and they must not report to the Police or the Prisons nor to the State or Federal Attorney-Generals and rather directly to State Parliaments. In terms of proportion to total population Australia has one of the world’s worst deaths in custody records and it cannot go unnoticed. Australian Public Prosecutors and the criminal justice system have failed to undertake exploration before our Courts of the majority of Australian deaths in custody. This inexplicable inconsistency requires the Australian Senate to insist on a separate, independent Inspectorate to investigate deaths in custody.

“Our prisons are killing people, whether sentenced or on remand they are dying at a greater rate than most other countries. We have failed to implement the majority of protocols and remedies from the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and its 339 recommendations. The Commonwealth, and our police and prison services continue with a hostile denial of our racism and refuse to unveil our racial layers. The insistence on zero tolerance protocols and harsher sentencing regimes, in WA average sentences have increased by 118 days, have ensured tragic deaths in custody statistics.”

We argue that 2009 and 2010 will document deaths in custody statistics worse than 2007 and 2008. Very little has improved since 1991.

WA has three times the national average for Aboriginal deaths in custody. 18% of all deaths in custody are Aboriginal, which is at least 6 times the rate to the percentage of the Australian population Aboriginal peoples represent. However 82% of deaths in custody are non-Aboriginal and these alone represent a terrible record when compared with trends around the world.

“Australia has one of the world’s worst deaths in custody records. One of our 76 Senators must call for an urgent Senate Inquiry, a Joint Committee with experts and researchers to get to the facts and to the remedies. If they do continue to neglect the call for a Senate Inquiry they are without equivocation culpable in the deaths of these people and the terrible predicaments police and prison personnel are placed in when demands are made upon them to act with zero tolerance, aggression and hostility. We need a Senate Inquiry into Australian Deaths in Custody before we need Senate Inquries into the price of milk and into noise forecasts in suburbs around airports.”

“The Australian Institute of Criminology, which since 1992 has provided certain statistics in relation to deaths in custody, must be involved in a discussion to further explain some of these statistics. From my research point of view I will question their definition of ‘natural causes of deaths’ and their argument of an ‘ageing prison population’. The age that people die at is grounds for comprehensive investigation and especially where ‘natural causes’ has been attributed as the manner of death.”

“Australia cannot continue to turn a blind eye to its Deaths in Custody record. Our jails are full of illiteracy, poverty, reoffending prisoners, and the hardening of criminality. There are relatively few opportunities within the prison systems to produce literacy, to educate to employability and to offer psychosocial counselling and various treatment clinics. Aboriginal prisoners have less chance of early parole than non-Aboriginal prisoners. Non-educated prisoners and inter-generationally poor prisoners have less chance at early parole than educated and more affluent prisoners. It is appalling that the Commonwealth does not invest in ample remedial opportunities within the prison systems. Instead prisoners are often exploited for little remuneration within the prison industries.”

“If we do not have a Senate Inquiry, and if we do not unveil our racial and class division layers and if we do not implement remedies by 2020 we will have a further 1,000 deaths in custody, double the number of prisons and more than likely almost triple the prison population. Prison and police personnel will be further desensitised from our common humanity, and many traumatised, by zero tolerance protocols and even greater demands upon them to engage in aggressive practices.”

The Human Rights Alliance calls for the urgent Senate Inquiry. We have called upon our Australian Senators to consider the data, the facts, the questions and the obvious. Without a Senate Inquiry NOTHING WILL CHANGE. Certain Senators have assured us they are considering the data and the questions.

“It is not possible that in 2,056 deaths in custody from 1980 to 2008, and the 160 thereabout deaths since 2008, that there could have been no criminality, no criminal negligence, no successful prosecution. This is why we need independent Police and Prison Inspectorates that do not interact with the Police and Prison Services, and thus eliminate imputations, and report directly to State Parliaments.”

THE HUMAN RIGHTS ALLIANCE

Gerry Georgatos, Convener of the Human Rights Alliance
Working towards a Better Future

We acknowledge and respect the traditional custodians whose ancestral lands we are now part of. We acknowledge and remember the horrific atrocities inflicted upon them. This is and will forever be their land.

MEDIA CONTACT: 0430 657 309

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