Time to end deaths in custody
On the 30-year anniversary of the report of Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress (UAICC) and Uniting Church in Australia have called on all levels of government to commit to systemic and lasting change to reduce the nation’s alarmingly high incarceration rates for First Peoples.
“Thirty years ago, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody provided a blueprint for preventing deaths in custody and reducing the incarceration rate of First Peoples. It’s now a generation later and governments at all levels have failed to act,” said Pastor Mark Kickett, Interim UAICC National Chairperson.
Since the final report was table in 1991, the incarceration rate for First Peoples has doubled. More than 450 First Peoples have died in custody in the past 30 years, with five dying in the past month alone.
“This is a national crisis that requires urgent, systemic and lasting change – not more buck passing, delay or deferral.
“We should be building communities, not more prisons. We need a comprehensive, coordinated and holistic approach that empowers communities and shifts the focus toward investing in prevention, early intervention, and diversion approaches.”
Pastor Kickett noted a key theme in the Royal Commission’s findings was the importance of self-determination.
“Lasting change must be based on the involvement of First Peoples in the development, implementation and ownership of policies and programs that tackle incarceration and build strong and resilient communities.
“A Constitutionally-enshrined Voice would ensure First Nations full participation in the solutions – all we need now is the political leadership and commitment from governments to listen and act,” said Pastor Kickett.
Alison Overeem, UAICC National Executive member and co-Chair of the Uniting First Peoples Working Group, emphasised the need for a comprehensive approach that promotes healing and connections to culture, and recognises the impacts of colonisation and intergenerational trauma.
“Churning people through the justice system simply perpetuates a cycle of intergenerational grief, trauma and disadvantage. Governments should instead be supporting a whole-of-community, grassroots-led, and solutions-based approach – an approach that takes into account social determinants and the impacts of intergenerational trauma and child removal.
“Programs and policies to tackle incarceration need to be grounded in our strengths, our resilience, our cultures. The connections and reconnections to culture and community bring the strength that’s needed to sustain preventative measures.”
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer said the 30-year failure to address Indigenous incarceration was a national shame.
“In the Uniting Church, we believe we have a destiny together as First and Second Peoples, and this calls us to seek out justice for all.”
“Today we grieve with our First Nation brothers and sisters the more than 450 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission 30 years ago, including five in the past month.”
“It is unacceptable that nearly half of the youth detention population are First Peoples, with children as young as 10-years of age being torn away from their communities and locked away.”
“We join UAICC in urging governments at all levels to work together to deliver substantive and durable change.”
“Raising the age of criminal responsibility nationally is one action that Australian governments can take right now that will have an immediate – and generational – impact to reduce the over-incarceration and give Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children a brighter future,” said Dr Palmer.