Today the Commonwealth Government is expected to release Closing the Gap justice targets to address the crisis of Aboriginal incarceration. Yesterday a draft of the national agreement stated that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples would wait until 2093 to reach parity with non-Indigenous Australians.
National justice coalition Change the Record, the Human Rights Law Centre and the Law Council of Australia have called for immediate action in light of the 437 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody that have shamefully happened since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Sophie Trevitt, Executive Officer, Change the Record:
“Setting a goal to reach equality by the end of the century is not ‘ambitious’, it’s a death sentence for hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Governments know what action is needed to end the mass incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how to get there. It’s been spelled out in countless Royal Commissions, inquiries and – tragically – all too often in inquests.
“Hundreds of thousands of Australians took to the streets in support of the Black Lives Matters movement. If governments believe that the lives of First Nations people matter, then they would take urgent steps to remove those unjust laws and policies that contribute to this crisis, in particularity raising the age of criminal responsibility to keep young children out of prison, abolishing discriminatory and punitive mandatory sentencing laws and to implement the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”
Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre:
“Almost thirty years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that the primary driver of Aboriginal deaths in custody was the mass incarceration of our people. That remains the case today.
“These targets are just kicking the can down the road. Setting targets for the end of the century shows that this government is not serious about taking responsibility for the crisis of mass incarceration, and is willing to condemn another generation to poverty, imprisonment and trauma. We need genuine, ambitious targets that are reported on annually and hold governments to account. Equality by the end of the century isn’t good enough.
“Nothing is stopping state, territory and Commonwealth governments taking action today. That’s why we are reissuing our call for all state and territory governments to act on the crucial recommendations of numerous land marks inquiries and repeal damaging laws that lead to mass imprisonment and raise the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14 years old to keep kids out of prison.”
Pauline Wright, President of the Law Council of Australia:
“Australia’s First Nations people, who are amongst the most incarcerated populations on earth, have been waiting on real government action for too long. They should not have to wait another lifetime – until 2093 – to see parity in this area. Governments must commit to the most ambitious justice targets possible, and to implementing the recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) seminal Pathways to Justice report, which sets out the framework for how to achieve change.”
Commonwealth, state and territory governments must take these urgent steps to end the mass incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
End the mass imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by repealing punitive bail laws; mandatory sentencing laws; and decriminalising public drunkenness.
Stop imprisoning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and raise the age of legal responsibility from 10 to at least 14 years.
Promote different models of policing and real accountability by prioritising models of policing that promote partnerships and collaborations with Aboriginal communities, Elders and ACCOs and legislate for independent investigations of deaths in custody and the resourcing of independent police oversight bodies.
Implement all recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, ALRC Pathways to Justice and the countless independent investigations, coronial inquests and reports that have been published in the three decades since.
End the abuse, torture and solitary confinement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in police, prison cells and youth detention centres through legislative safeguards and by urgently establishing independent oversight bodies to monitor the conditions and treatment of people detained; in accordance with our obligations under the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).
Story source: Human Rights Law Centre