Deaths in custody in Australia: the complete picture

"This time, perfectly normal people seem to feel that they have to get in lock-step with the movement. To post what everyone is meant to post. To make sure they do nothing that will make them stand out from the herd. It is understandable. At this moment many people will be noticing there are actual as well as virtual mobs — of admirably diverse composition — stalking around looking for people who they can complain have looked at them funny. But personally I would resist the urge to prostrate myself at this point in time." — Douglas Murray

In Australia in 2017–18, out of the 72 deaths in custody that year only 16 were Indigenous. Every figure represented here represents a person, and each number is a tragedy. But the tragedy of dying in prison starts with landing in prison, which starts with committing a serious crime (or a string of less serious ones over time). And this starts with bad decisions often made out of personal trauma, which often starts within the family — or lack thereof.

For every dollar spent on non-Indigenous welfare in Australia, two dollars are spent on Aborigines (welfare is clearly not working). Land rights have been established under both Federal and State laws, but unfortunately the people running the bodies adminstering land rights have subjected them to corruption and cronyism. No wonder those 16 died in custody.

We cannot simply rail against deaths in custody and try and solve that, without looking upstream at how and why people end up in custody in the first place. If we refuse to lock them up, we might as well tear up the laws, shut down the courts, and fire the police, and I’m not sure anyone is ready to live with the outcomes of that. The biggest victims of all would be those upon whom the increased crimes would be visited, which will be the indigenous community — the women who’ve been beaten, the kids who’ve been abused, etc.

Louis Nowra had visited outback communities and “found them astonishingly brutal: “Some of the women’s faces ended up looking as though an incompetent butcher had conducted plastic surgery with a hammer and saw. The fear in the women’s eyes reminded me of dogs whipped into cringing submission”. Most crimes against the Indigenous in Australia are committed by other Indigenous. The assault and domestic violence numbers are horrific.

Indigenous people make up 3.3% of Australia’s total population, yet:

- Indigenous people commit 15.7% of homicides

- 20% of Indigenous Australians experience domestic abuse in the household

- 25% of children who are sexually or physically abused are Indigenous

- Indigenous children are 7.5 times more likely to be victims of child sexual or physical abuse (this figure is tragically underreported in the Indigenous community)

- Illicit drug use by Indigenous people is twice as high as that of the general population

- 28% of all Indigenous people have used illicit drugs in the past 12 months. Compare that to just 13% in the general population.

Mentioning statistics isn’t racism. It’s facts provision. Racism will sadly always exist, but the myth that systemic racism dominates the Australian culture of today is an outright lie.

People cite that the overpolicing in Indigenous areas results in a higher incarceration rate. This is true, but it’s not a factor of race. As I’ve stipulated, Indigenous communities have higher rates of crime and therefore an increased police presence in these areas is not racist, it’s just common sense and simply efficient policing.

Wondering why they are overrepresented in Australian prisons? It’s because the statistics demonstrate that they commit more crime. Never forget that those who suggest their incarceration figure should reflect the Indigenous population of Australia (3.3%), are trampling on the graves of the many Indigenous people who are the victims of sexual, physical, domestic and substance abuse.

It’s a complex issue and I’m all for working towards better outcomes. I don’t relish the idea of anyone being in prison. But we need to understand the facts first, so we can work on solutions that protect the vulnerable on the other side of the equation too. Perhaps we should focus on the two real issues facing society being the heinous police brutality inflicted equally upon ALL races in this country and the disappointing crime statistics that continue to occur in the Indigenous community today, whether that be due to historical racism, cultural issues or socio-economic factors.

The first step starts with ending the myth that the Australian law enforcement of today is driven by systemic racism, because victimisation doesn’t solve a single thing. And a final note: life sentences equal certain deaths in custody from medical issues, ie old age. That’s on top of the suicides and other inmate violence resulting in death. The devil is in the detail, yet all are tragic. #AllLivesMatter



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