WA’ s shameful record

THIS week marks 30 years since the release of the findings of the 1991 Royal Commission Into Indigenous Deaths in Custody. The Deaths in Custody Watch Committee was due to mark the day with a rally in Forrest Place on Thursday April 15, calling on the full implementation of the recommendations, many of which have been delayed as more than 450 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have died in custody since the report. Dorinda Cox is a Noongar Yamatji woman and lead senate candidate for the Greens in the next federal election, and says the lack of political leadership on First Nations issues in WA is “shameful” and we’re leading the country for all the wrong reasons.

WESTERN AUSTRALIA incarcerates First Nations peoples at the highest rate of anywhere in the world and has the highest rate of deaths in custody in the country. WA also leads the country with the highest rate of incarceration of First Nations children and young people.

No child should be in prison and it’s time the McGowan Government acted on the very clear evidence and raised the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years.

With the McGowan Government achieving the results they did at the state election they have the opportunity to make real change and that needs to start with fixing the prison system that is literally killing our people and tearing families apart.

We don’t want to hear about budget surpluses until this Government is putting real, long-term funding into early intervention and prevention programs and justice reinvestment.

In order for us to achieve the Closing the Gap targets for reducing First Nations incarceration, we must include national accountability measures and significant investment in preventing incarceration. 

Here in WA we must dismantle the current justice pipeline by reducing out of home care; an internationally recognised driver for young people’s disengagement in education and increased vulnerability for youth imprisonment.

One of the most prevalent causes of death for First Nations people in custody are medical issues, or what coronial reports refer to as “natural causes”, and research supporting the claims that people were much less likely to have been given all of the medical care they needed prior to their death. 

It is unacceptable that in modern day Australia, First Nations people are dying in custody because they don’t receive adequate custodial care which is ultimately a breach of their human rights.

First Nations Deaths in Custody Watch Committee spokesperson Mervyn Eades said that the 5 deaths of First Nations people since the beginning of March is disgraceful and unacceptable with the last death of an inmate from Perth’s Casuarina Prison. The 12 key asks of the committee will enable immediate action and provides an opportunity for the committee to work alongside the state government for their successful implementation and measurement for change.

The First Nations Deaths In Custody Watch Committee honour the memory of all of those who have died in custody and pay our respects to their families and communities and call on the State Government to immediately take action to:

1: Raise the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 years of age;

2: Abolish mandatory sentencing and reform bail and probation laws;

3: Decriminalise drug possession and treat drug use as a health issue;

4: Reform vehicle offence laws, end move on notices and dangerous police pursuits;

5: End the process of police-investigating-police and remove racist police and prison officers; 6: Ensure that police and prison officer training continually promotes anti racism and cultural capability;

7: Provide adequate social housing;

8: Ensure better medical and mental health services in and out of prisons;

9: Improve and increase rehabilitation programs in prisons;

10: Build more refuges and provide more support for victims of family and domestic violence; 11: Increase funding and resources for justice reinvestment and community run programs;

12: Establish more community based healing and cultural centres.

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