Tuesday 9 March 2021
The Aboriginal Legal Service is calling for real accountability after the deaths of an Aboriginal man and woman in NSW prisons last week.
The two deaths, confirmed by NSW Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin in Budget Estimates on Tuesday morning, add to over 440 deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody nationwide over the past three decades.
“Any death in custody is an absolute tragedy. People who pass away in custody take their last breaths away from their loved ones, often in extremely distressing circumstances,” said Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS).
“Our thoughts are with the families of these two people, and we encourage the media and the public to give them space to grieve and make funeral arrangements.”
Ms Warner said while identification of people who die in custody must be up to families, Government should be more transparent and timely in the information they share with the public.
“The NSW Government has an obligation to let people know things that are in the public interest, and this includes when there has been a death in their care,” Ms Warner said.
“One option would be for Corrective Services and Police to release basic details such as the date and location of death, and the age, gender and Aboriginality of the deceased person.
“No personal information should be released by Corrective Services NSW and the NSW Government unless there is consent from the family, after the family have had an opportunity to obtain legal advice.”
Ms Warner also called for the ALS and the Coroner’s Court to be adequately resourced to provide support to families following a death in custody and in coronial inquests.
All deaths in custody are subject to a coronial inquest. The ALS is currently representing several other Aboriginal families in deaths in custody inquests.
While each inquest leads to a list of recommendations, Ms Warner said there is a lack of scrutiny and transparency as to whether these are implemented.
“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made multiple recommendations in 1991, yet many of these haven’t been acted upon. Too many reports and inquiries end up as little more than paper gathering dust, which means people continue to suffer preventable deaths,” she said.
Budget Estimates heard on Tuesday morning that hanging points are still present in Tamworth Correctional Centre, despite a coronial recommendation to remove them after the 2017 death in custody of Tane Chatfield.
“It is well past time for real accountability. The NSW Government including Corrective Services and Police must operate with transparency and be answerable to families and the public. People within these systems who act negligently or maliciously must face consequences, both professional and criminal as appropriate, for their actions,” Ms Warner said.
“The dozens of recommendations from the Royal Commission and from the many inquests into deaths in custody must be implemented without delay, and the public must be kept informed of the progress of implementation.”
Media contact: Alyssa Robinson – [email protected] / 0427 346 017