13 April 2011
JOINT MEDIA STATEMENT
FROM THE ABORIGINAL LEGAL SERVICE OF WA AND THE DEATHS IN CUSTODY WATCH COMMITTEE (WA)
13 April 2011
The number of Indigenous people who have died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Despite West Australian Premier, Mr Colin Barnett recently claiming that his state drives the national economy, apparently money for addressing the tragic ongoing deaths of his Indigenous constituents isn’t a major priority. Nor does it seem are appropriate policies to deal with the appalling over-representation of Indigenous people in custody.
Two decades after the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) report on 15 April 1991, 269 more Aboriginal people have died nationally in custody. This appalling figure is accompanied by the fact that WA currently has the highest percentage incarceration rate of Aboriginal peoples in the nation when you consider that Aboriginal people make up only 4% of this state’s population.
*(As at 7 April 2011 WA Aboriginal incarceration rates are 38.8% of adults, 73.8% of juveniles).
As Western Australia prepares for the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), it may like to reflect upon its disgraceful human rights record in relation to custodial deaths of Indigenous Western Australians. “With the eyes of the Commonwealth soon to be upon us, Premier Barnett may like to take the opportunity to address this ongoing blight on our state and show some real leadership”, said Mr. John Bedford, Executive Officer and Acting CEO, Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA).
Mr. Bedford said that CHOGM could be an important opportunity for compassionate and fair minded people to highlight Western Australia’s lamentable human rights record to its international guests. “To be honest, it really saddens me that so much money is being poured into building new prisons, rather than focusing on implementing the RCIADIC recommendations and diversionary programs to assist in keeping people out of prison. If you are an Aboriginal person you are fourteen times more likely to be incarcerated and it is unacceptable that governments are not doing more to address this issue. Not only are people still dying in custody, but there are also inadequate investigations into many of these deaths. I’m sure that the Commonwealth leaders would be shocked to discover that Aboriginal people represent 26% of Australia’s prisoners despite representing only 3% of the total population”.
ALSWA and the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee WA (DICWC) will host a Public March in Perth this Friday 15 April 2011 to remember those whose lives have been lost and to ensure that deaths in custody remains firmly on the political agenda. DICWC Chairperson Marianne Mackay says it is unacceptable that many recommendations have still not been implemented 20 years after the report’s release. “It’s extremely disturbing that this state is still not doing more to address the over-policing and over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within the criminal justice system. Of the 99 deaths investigated by the Royal Commission, 32 occurred in WA with five being at the Kalgoorlie police lock up”. Mr. Ben Taylor, a lifelong member of DICWC says that “all fair minded Western Australians should be appalled at the reputation that this state has gained through its mistreatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples”.
Joining ALSWA and DICWC at this significant event on Friday will be guest speakers including Elders, family members affected by a death in custody, politicians, and ANTaR. ALSWA and DICWC demands include the full implementation of RCIADIC recommendations, urgent calls for a reduction in Aboriginal incarceration and contact with the justice system, increased diversionary and rehabilitative measures (including Justice Reinvestment initiatives) and independent investigation and monitoring of deaths in custody and police misconduct. There will also be further calls for the Government to ratify and implement the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and implement the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
Click on the link below for full details of the Public March in Perth on Friday 15 April 2011.