Where is the political courage to address deaths in custody_

Where is the political courage to address deaths in custody?

The NSW Parliament has today handed down a report into First Nations Deaths in Custody. This is on the 30th anniversary of the final report from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

The report sets out a pathway for far-reaching reforms to the criminal justice system and calls for an independent body to oversee all deaths in custody.

The great majority of its recommendations have the support of MPs from across the political spectrum. The great bulk of its outcomes are unanimous.

However, it remains to be seen which of these recommendations will have implementation with the needed haste.

Over 450 indigenous deaths in custody

Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe at a BLM protest
Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe at a BLM protest. Source: Facebook

Since the Royal Commission, over 450 First Nations people have died whilst in custody. The alarming rate of deaths feeds directly into the over-incarceration of First Nations people. First Nations people are not inherently more criminal.

Greens MP David Shoebridge moved the motion to establish the inquiry and said, “Today I give my respect to those First Nations families who have lost loved ones to the criminal justice system, who have had the courage and strength to stand up and demand justice, they have made this happen.”

Victorian Senator Lidia Thorpe, a Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman, broke down in Parliament last month after news of another First Nations life lost in custody.

“We feel this as black fellas right across this country – my people are sick of losing people,” she told the Parliament.

“We are still trying to survive in this country and they are killing us in the prison system.”

She added, “We are still being genocided out – this is genocide,”.

“I know people don’t agree with that, but when will the killing stop? When will the destruction of our land and our people stop in this country?”

Raise the Age of criminal responsibility

Key recommendations from the report include the need to raise the age of criminal responsibility in order to divert First Nations youth away from the criminal justice system.

“Too many young people from First Nations communities are facing arrest and adverse interactions with police from a very young age. To help reverse this trend and in recognition of the powerful submissions from law reform bodies and medical experts the committee has recommended that the age of criminal responsibility be lifted from 10 to 14 years,” Shoebridge stated.

“Lifting the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years not only recognises the best evidence on cognitive development, it will bring Australia into the international mainstream where 14 years is the well-established minimum age for criminal responsibility.”

Deaths in Custody report has 39 recommendations

The first of the 39 recommendations that have arisen from this report is to implement any outstanding measures from the Royal Commission and the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission report. This is of course limited to what is within NSW State control. However, starting here is a significant step towards Australia wide reform.

Other recommendations include:

You can read the full report here.

O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors strongly urge the NSW Government and NSW Police Force to implement measures listed in the recommendations. This is in order to reduce institutionalised racism within the criminal justice system. 

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Sarah Gore
Sarah is a civil solicitor who primarily practices in defamation, intentional torts against police, privacy and harassment.

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O’Brien Criminal & Civil Solicitors
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a: Level 4, 219-223 Castlereagh St,
Sydney NSW 2000

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