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It’s been 31 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report was published by the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Royal Commission investigated the deaths of 99 First Nations people who died in custody between 1980 and 1989, in response to growing pressure from First Nations individuals and organisations.

This landmark report handed down the devastating finding: First Nations people were more likely to die in custody because they were more likely to be in custody.

31 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody report, and this still rings true:

  • First Nations people make up 3% of the Australian population, but 29% of the adult prison population
  • First Nations adults are 15 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-First Nations adults
  • First Nations youth are 26 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-First Nations young people
  • First Nations women are imprisoned at 21 times the rate of the non-Indigenous female population
  • First Nations people make up 84% of the prisoner population in the Northern Territory

31 years after 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody...

Most of the 339 recommendations made to address First Nations deaths in custody have not been implemented.

At least 517 First Nations people have died in custody.

First Nations people in Australia are the most incarcerated people on the planet.

But why are First Nations people more likely to be in prison?

The ongoing impacts of colonisation and consequences of government policies continue to influence the high incarceration rates of First Nations people.

These include poor health, inadequate housing, low employment and education, and inter generational trauma.

First Nations communities tend to experience higher police presence and feel the effects of systemic racism in the justice system.

At the time of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 14% of the prisoner population was First Nations. This over representation was considered unconscionable and the greatest issue leading to the high numbers of deaths in custody.

Reducing this over representation was the single most important recommendation to come out of the Royal Commission.

But 30 years on, instead of decreasing this over representation it has doubled to 29%.

We need to take radical action to address this national crisis. We need to place power in the hands of First Nations people, to change the system and create new hope and opportunity.

In the Uluru Statement From The Heart, we hear these profound words: 

“Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates.

This cannot be because we have no love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

These dimensions of our crisis tell plainly the structural nature of our problem. This is the torment of our powerlessness. We seek constitutional reforms to empower our people and take a rightful place in our own country.

When we have power over our destiny our children will flourish. They will walk in two worlds and their culture will be a gift to their country.”

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Children's Ground
— Posted on 09 Apr 2021