30 years since Royal Commission: criminal justice system still fails First Nations people

Australia’s criminal justice system continues to fail First Nations people 30 years after the findings of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were handed down, say lawyers.

Since the Royal Commission there have been 474 further Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody and, sadly, in March this year five First Nations people died in custody,” said Mr Graham Droppert SC, National President, Australian Lawyers Alliance. “This is an ongoing tragedy for their families, their communities and for First Nations people.

“One of the keys to reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody is stopping the disproportionate imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately three per cent of the population but almost 30 per cent of the adult prisoner population.

“The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in the prison population is a significant and persistent problem that must be addressed,” said Mr Droppert SC. “Current moves in the Northern Territory and Queensland to introduce even more punitive measures to address youth crime only add to the problem. These ‘tough on crime’ responses result in the locking up of even more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people but fail to address any of the underlying causes of offending.

“Raising the age of criminal responsibility is another important step that must be taken to have an immediate impact on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody.

“The Australian legal system has disempowered and marginalised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for too long. More work is urgently needed to remove the racism and discrimination that is still entrenched in our police and criminal justice systems to stop First Nations people dying in custody.”

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