The Traditional Owners of this land are those who identify as
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples.

Sovereignty was never ceded.

ANTAR pays respect to Elders past, present, and emerging through our dedicated advocacy for First Nations Peoples’ justice and rights.

ANTAR acknowledges the responsibility of committing to a truth-telling process that promotes an honest and respectful path forward for future generations to build upon.

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Justice Context & background
5 minutes

Context & background

Last edited: October 6, 2022

ANTAR undertakes our justice advocacy in partnership with First Nations-led coalitions – Change the Record and Just Reinvest NSW. In addition, we are a member of the Raise the Age campaign. For over 25 years ANTAR has advocated for the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to be implemented in full.

ANTaR has long advocated for  governments to address systemic discriminatory practices in Australia’s criminal justice system. The numbers of First Nations Peoples in all stages of the criminal justice system far exceed their proportion in the community. In particular there is a long history of perceived injustice and anger at the outcomes of coronial processes of family members who continue to die in police custody. There has never been a conviction over a First Nations death in custody in Australia.

First Nations communities have long engaged in public protest that has rarely gained the attention of the wider Australian community – watch Living Black: Aboriginal Lives Matter for more.

In June 2020, the brutal murder of an African American man, George Floyd, sparked a global resurgence known as the Black Lives Matter movement. After millions witnessed the murder at the hands of the police, the Black Lives Matter movement called upon Australians to address and change the injustices faced by First Nations People. Despite restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the first Black Lives Matter rallies in Australia were attended by up to 20,000 people in one city alone. 

Protesters march on 6 June, 2020 in Adelaide, Australia. Events across the country were organised in solidarity with Black Lives Matter protests in the United States and to rally against First Nations deaths in custody in Australia.

Since the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, First Nations people have provided significant media commentary reflecting their hopes that non-Indigenous Australians will continue to display solidarity regarding the injustices and broader systemic racism.

Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no  love for them. And our youth languish in detention in obscene numbers. They should be our hope for the future.

The Uluru Statement From the Heart.

The rallying cries of ‘no more deaths in custody’ may not be well known amongst non-Indigenous Australians, however, they echo the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) of nearly 30 years ago. The Royal Commission (1987-1991) was set up in response to community agitation and suspicion of police involvement in a spate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody the previous year. It was tasked with investigating the 99 First Nations deaths that had occurred in police custody since January 1980. In the three decades since the RCIADIC final report in 1991, there have been more than 500 First Nations deaths in custody, and no associated convictions. 

2021 marked the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). The Royal Commission’s Final Report was an extraordinarily thorough document, running to ten volumes with 339 Recommendations.  It was the first time in Australian history that a document of national significance publicly established and acknowledged the relationship between the disadvantaged conditions of First Nations Peoples and Australia’s colonial past. The only other similar truth-telling document of national status is the 1997 Bringing Them Home Report. The RCIADIC Final Report concluded that First Nations people were 16.5 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to die in custody between 1990 and 1995. This statistic reflects First Nations People’s disproportionate rate of incarceration, structural racism, and systemic bias. 

The recommendations were targeted to reduce incarceration rates and in turn the number of First Nations deaths in custody, however the majority of these recommendations have failed to be implemented. A central finding of the RCIADIC Report revealed that the present conditions of over-representation of First Nations People in detention, had their ‘origins in structural, systemic injustice to a disadvantaged minority rather than in a propensity in this group to increased criminality’. 

Read more on RCIADIC and First Nations deaths in custody here.

In 2018, an Australian Law Reform Commission Report, Pathways to Justice, was requested by the federal Attorney-General. With 35 key recommendations, it set out yet another road map for addressing the over-incarceration of First Nations People in Australia. To date, however, there has been no formal government response.

Statistics

Australian Bureau of Statistics 2019

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for over a quarter (28%) of the total Australian prisoner population, while being less than 3% of population.
  • Three out of four Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners…had been imprisoned under sentence previously.
  • The median age of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 32 years (younger than non-Indigenous prisoners).
  • The median aggregate sentence length for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was 2.0 years.

‘Deaths Inside’ The Guardian 2021

  • At least 500 deaths since RCIADIC.
  • First Nations people die in custody from treatable medical conditions and are much less likely than non-Indigenous to receive care required.
  • Agencies such as police watch-houses, prisons and hospitals fail to follow their own procedures in 34% of cases of First Nations deaths compared with 21% of non-Indigenous deaths.
  • Mental health is an issue in 41% of ALL deaths however First Nations people received care in only 53% of cases.
  • Families wait up to 3 years for inquest findings in some states.
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Justice
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Justice Deaths in custody Read More
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