Anniversary reflection: Solution unchanged for Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Decorative image
In 1987, Prime Minister Bob Hawke responded to the disproportionate rate of First Peoples dying in prison by launching the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

On 15 April 1991 the Commission delivered its final report finding, among other things, that Aboriginal people are imprisoned at much higher rates than non-Aboriginal people, in part due to the ongoing effects of colonisation. The Commission identified this overincarceration as a key factor driving deaths in custody and recommended that imprisonment be ‘a sanction of last resort’.

On 31 August 2023 the Yoorrook Justice Commission delivered its Report into Victoria’s Child Protection and Criminal Justice Systems finding, among other things, that ‘First Peoples are around 15 times more likely to be in adult prison’.

In the 33 years since the Royal Commission’s report, 545 more First People have died in custody, 34 of those in Victoria.

The solution, as Yoorrook notes, remains the same as it was in 1991:

‘the key to reducing First Peoples deaths in custody is reducing the rate at which they are put in custody…’