Another heartbreaking death of an Indigenous person in prison has prompted anger and concern from Amnesty International Australia. The human rights organisation slammed the Australian government’s justice system as “fundamentally broken” and demanded it act on the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
A 41-year-old Indigenous man was found unresponsive in his cell on Monday morning at Western Australia’s Hakea Prison, after what the WA Department of Justice has suggested was a health issue.
“Preliminary reports indicated the man had suffered a medical episode,” a spokesperson said, per the National Indigenous Times.
The spokesperson also told NIT that officers and paramedics arrived at 10.30am but the man could not be revived. His death will be investigated by WA Police as all deaths in custody are and a report will be prepared for a coroner.
Amnesty International Australia has called on the Department of Justice to be proactive about preventing Aboriginal deaths in prisons, noting that the man’s passing comes just weeks after 16-year-old Cleveland Dodd took his own life in Casuarina Prison on October 19.
“Each case should be investigated independently by a criminal investigator, and not rely on a government coroner. Our mob are dying inside these prisons. No one has been found responsible, and there are no recommendations coming from the coroner that are stopping deaths in custody,” Palawa Elder Uncle Rodney Dillon, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Advisor, said.
On the day of his death, the boy contacted officers via an intercom where he told them he was going to take his own life. Sixteen minutes elapsed between his calls to officers and when they came to check on him. By then, he had sadly died.
The human rights organisations’ Engagement Associate Campaigner, Rachael McPhail, said the death could have been prevented and blamed deeply entrenched racism in the justice system.
“These are preventable deaths that are caused by systemic racism, unconscious bias and a justice system that is heavily stacked against First Nations Peoples,” she said.
“I urge the Western Australian government to appoint an independent body to investigate the circumstances of this death in custody, as per the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,” she said.
Dodd was held at in Unit 18, the juvenile detention unit of the maximum security prison, and his family reported that he was held in solitary confinement 23 hours of the day. His death followed at least 20 other suicide attempts of youth in the same unit, and more than 350 instance of self harm, per ABC News.
WA Children’s Court president Hylton Quail slammed the conditions inside Unit 18, which he said “brutalised and alienated” the boys that went through it, who he said are “subject to by far and away the worst conditions of incarceration of any group in this state, worse than any adult prison.”
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was issued more than three decades ago. Since it released its recommendations (most of which the government is still yet to implement in full), more than 500 prisoners have died in their cells. Just this year, 80 people have died in prison.
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