On the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Western Australian Government is being urged to adopt justice targets to address the State’s appalling rates of Aboriginal peoples’ over-imprisonment.
Dennis Eggington, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service WA, said that the primary recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was that governments must reduce the rates at which Aboriginal people are locked up.
“Western Australia’s justice system is at a crisis point. It perpetuates inequality and injustice – which is exactly the opposite of what it is intended to do,” said Mr Eggington.
Nationally Aboriginal imprisonment rates have doubled since the Royal Commission and Western Australia is the worst performing jurisdiction. WA’s Aboriginal imprisonment rate is close to 70 percent higher than the national imprisonment rate.
The Human Rights Law Centre’s Senior Lawyer, Ruth Barson, said that governments should be held to account for this injustice by adopting Justice Targets – measurable goals to reduce Aboriginal imprisonment rates.
“Justice Targets will ensure governments commit to and publicly report against efforts to reduce Aboriginal peoples’ over-imprisonment. They will help to ensure governments can’t just continue to turn a blind eye to this crisis,” said Ms Barson.
In WA Aboriginal people are 17 times more likely to be locked up than non-Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people represent approximately three percent of the general population, yet close to 40 percent of WA’s prison population.
Last month the WA Coroner examined the tragic death in police custody of Ms Dhu, a 22 year-old Yamatji woman, who was locked up in a South Headland police station for failing to pay her fines. She died three days later.
Carol Roe, grandmother of Ms Dhu, said that having her granddaughter die such an inhuman death has caused her and her family immeasurable grief.
“When Aboriginal people, like my granddaughter, die in custody, families and communities are destroyed. My heart will never stop bleeding. My family will never stop hurting”.
“My granddaughter should have never been locked up. She should be here with me, rather than in a grave. WA should stop locking people up for unpaid fines,” said Ms Roe.
Dennis Eggington said that twenty-five years ago the Royal Commission told governments that Aboriginal people like Ms Dhu should not be locked up for minor offences, but the WA Government has not listened.
“The WA Government should choose to right this wrong. We should be strengthening communities rather than destroying them,” said Mr Eggington.
For media inquiries:
Dennis Eggington /ALSWA Media Enquiries to ALSWA Media Officer Jodi Hoffmann, 0428 948 610
Ruth Barson, HRLC Senior Lawyer, 0417 773 037