29 April 2020
Urgent action from Australian Governments needed to prevent COVID-19 Black deaths in custody.
We represent the families of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been murdered in prisons or police custody.
We have lost our loved ones due to police or prison officer violence, shootings, neglect and/or failure to provide medical attention and systemic and direct racism.
We are the families left behind due to Black deaths in custody in this country.
We also represent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and people who have loved ones and children in adult and youth prisons right now that we fear will contract COVID-19 and we fear for their lives.
This is an open letter from us to police, prisons and governments about what they need to do URGENTLY to prevent COVID-19 Black deaths in custody during this pandemic.
We have seen across the world that COVID-19 is spreading through prisons like wildfire. People in prison and staff are dying. Across the world, governments in the United States, United Kingdom, Indonesia and Iran have released prisoners in order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
We know that our people are more vulnerable to contracting and dying from COVID-19. We fear that a Black COVID-19 death in custody is only a matter of time: the risk is compounded by the mass incarceration of our people and the high rates of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
Far too often, our people have died in custody because their health issues have not been taken seriously due to racism. Prisons are not safe. Consequently, our people are ‘at risk’ during this pandemic and must be released.
We call for all Australian governments to immediately..
Get mob out of prison
- Release all First Nations adults and children from prison.
- Release those who are most vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 or who would be severely impacted by it, including:
- First Nations women who are pregnant and mothers with babies in prison;
- First Nations victim/survivors of family violence, particularly women, children and young people;
- Our Elders and elderly First Nations people, particularly those with respiratory illnesses, diabetes, or heart conditions;
- First Nations people with disability;
- First Nations people with chronic health issues, immuno-suppressed conditions including HIV and AIDS;
- First Nations people who are innocent, on remand or imprisoned awaiting a sentence until their court cases are finalised;
- Allow imprisoned First Nations people to have access to their families, lawyers/services and support persons. If in-person visits are not available then all other options (video, phone, etc) must be provided for free;
- Allow full access to Custody Notification Services for all First Nations people, without exception;
Stop criminalising mob
- Prevent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from going into prison and be trapped in the quicksand of the criminal legal system during this time by declaring a moratorium on warrants and arrests for six months and for police and the courts to rely on non custodial options like cautions or diversionary programs;
- Police must not be given extra powers during this pandemic, a global health crisis requires a health response, not a criminal one;
- Police must not over-police First Nations communities with COVID-19 related fines, especially for remote mob. Instead, we demand that fines be replaced with strengthened and properly funded community health promotion and education campaigns;
Care and protect mob
- Where prison officers or any person in prison has tested positive for COVID-19, there must be mandatory testing of all people in that prison with priority given to First Nations people;
- Provide full and appropriate medical care, preferably outside of prison, especially for First Nations people who have symptoms or are suspected of having COVID-19;
- First Nations people who remain imprisoned and are most at risk, those with illness, asthma, disability or mental health issues, or have a family history of risk factors, must be given priority for COVID-19 testing and treatment;
- Spithoods and restraints must not to be used on First Nations people in custody when receiving medical care or treatment for any condition;
- Any transportation to medical care must involve the deep cleaning of vans and surveillance of transfer;
- PPEs to be worn at all times by prison officers during the pandemic;
Support mob back into community
- Ensure transparency and community accountability when releasing First Nations people by making sure the powers to release do not sit with one person but rather an independent board whose decisions can be reviewed and appealed if necessary;
- Ensure that our communities can follow all relevant community protocols that apply on the release of an imprisoned First Nations person;
- All First Nations people released from prisons must be provided culturally safe social, medical, mental health support, welfare, income support, and other help to allow them to properly re-enter their communities after the trauma of prison;
- First Nations people must be allowed to recover and heal from the trauma of being imprisoned in their own communities and with their families. All of the families and communities receiving their loved ones back home must be supported and resourced to do so;
- When First Nations people do not have families, communities or homes to return to, they must be properly housed in adequate, good quality facilities like hotels, public homes, or good quality transitional homes;
- Provide mental health supports for First Nations communities, both for imprisoned people and people in the community; including appropriately identifying ‘at risk’ people by promptly making and/or responding to notifications of concern for people’s welfare;
- Implement all of the recommendations into the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody around the country.
This includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are being detained in immigration detention, and our people overseas in prison and who need help to come home.
More than four hundred of our family members and friends have died in custody since the end of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Prisons are crowded, violent, unsafe places, more so during a global pandemic.
As we are seeing COVID-19 deaths can be prevented by taking bold and brave measures. Being imprisoned during a global pandemic is likely to be a death sentence to our imprisoned people. Our governments must act now, we will not leave anyone behind.
This open letter is signed by ➜
- Caroline Andersen - Mother of Wayne Fella Morrison
- Latoya Rule - Sibling of Wayne Fella Morrison
- Buster Morrison - Brother of Wayne Fella Morrison
- Ella Russo - Sister of Wayne Fella Morrison
- Patrick Morrison - Brother of Wayne Fella Morrison
- Apryl Watson - Daughter of Aunty Tanya Day
- Belinda Stevens - Daughter of Aunty Tanya Day
- Warren Stevens - Son of Aunty Tanya Day
- Kimberly Watson - Daughter of Aunty Tanya Day
- Ray Thomas - Father of Raymond Thomas
- Debbie Williams - Mother of Raymond Thomas
- Aunty Carol Roe - Grandmother of Ms Dhu
- Aunty Leetona Dungay - Mother of David Dungay Jnr
- Christine Dungay - Sister of David Dungay Jnr
- Cynthia Dungay - Sister of David Dungay Jnr
- Ernie Dungay - Brother of David Dungay Jnr
- Paul Silva - Nephew of David Dungay Jnr
- Jodie Reynolds – Mother of Nathan Reynolds
- Toni Reynolds – Grandmother of Nathan Reynods
- Taleah Reynolds – Sister of Nathan Reynolds
- Makayla Reynolds - Sister of Nathan Reynolds
- Rosemary Roe - Aunty of GJ Roe and family currently in prison
- Ronald Roe - Brother of GJ Roe
- Audrey Roe - Cousin of GJ Roe
- Helen Corbett, co-founder and chairperson of National Committee to Defend Black Rights – Aunty of GJ Roe and Aunty of Ms Dhu
- Janine Kelly, Yamatji filmmaker - Aunty of Cherdeena Wynne and Ms Dhu
- Donna Moody - Aunty of Cherdeena Wynne & Ms Dhu, Cousin to Warren John Cooper
- Carolyn Lewis - Grandmother for Cherdeena Wynne & Ms Dhu; Aunty to Warren John Cooper
- Cecelia Maree Kelly - Grandmother for Cherdeena Wynne & Ms Dhu; Aunty to Warren John Cooper
- Rhonda Collard Spratt - Grandmother to Cherdeena Wynne & Ms Dhu; Aunty to Warren John Cooper
- Nikeeta Dorizzi-Kelly - Aunty to Cherdeena Wynne & Ms Dhu; Cousin to Warren John Cooper
- Kerry Roe - Aunty to Ms Dhu & Cherdeena Wynne; Cousin to Warren John Cooper
- Tsheena Cooper - Sister of Cherdeena Wynne & cousin of Ms Dhu; Niece to Warren John Cooper
- Marisha Cooper - Sister of Cherdeena Wynne & cousin of Ms Dhu; Niece to Warren John Cooper
- Claudia Wynne - Sister of Cherdeena Wynne & cousin of Ms Dhu; Niece to Warren John Cooper
- Karen Wynne - Sister of Cherdeena Wynne & cousin of Ms Dhu; Niece to Warren John Cooper
- Charlize Cooper - Sister of Cherdeena Wynne & cousin of Ms Dhu; Niece to Warren John Cooper
- Gary Cobb - Uncle of Tolita Cobbo
- Tereek Conlon - Nephew of Tolita Cobbo
- Tolita Conlon Cobbo - Niece of Tolita Cobbo
- Peta Conion Cobbo - Niece of Tolita Cobbo
- Tarneen Onus-Williams - Family currently in prison
- Naomi Murphy - Family currently in prison
- Sherri Lyle - Family currently in prison