There are growing calls for governments to take action on Indigenous deaths in custody before the 25th anniversary of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody next month.
The ongoing issue of Indigenous deaths in custody has been in the spotlight after several highly publicised cases recently, in particular that of Ms Dhu who died in West Australian watch house after being arrested for unpaid fines.
Amnesty is seeking the inclusion of justice targets in the existing Close the Gap targets, arguing that Indigenous rates of incarceration are at their highest since the royal commission.
Julian Cleary, Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous campaigner, says of the hundreds of recommendations to come out of the 1991 royal commission that only a handful have been implemented by federal and state governments.
“A quarter of a century ago, governments had a chance to act, but, tragically, they ignored the advice,” he says.
“Today, failing to set national justice targets proves one thing: governments don’t want to be held accountable for the astronomical rates at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are locked up.”
The call is being backed up by Gary Oliver the CEO of the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service who argues justice targets ensure governments are bound to delivering reduced imprisonment rates.
“In NSW alone our prison population is at record levels, despite an overall drop in crime rates,” he says.
“As staggering as it sounds, the truth is that more than one third of all the adults inside are Aboriginal, and over half the children inside are Aboriginal."
Mr Oliver linked the high rates of removal of Indigenous children from their family to higher rates of juvenile detention and imprisonment rates among adults.
“There are 6,000 Aboriginal children in out of home care in NSW, making up one third of the total care population of more than 19,000 children,” he says.
“Research tells us, and our clients tell us, there is a clear nexus between the removal of children and juvenile detention.
“That’s why we need care and justice targets in closing the gap."
Victoria, NT and ACT have taken the welcome steps of setting justice targets, says Mr Cleary who urged other governments to follow suit.
“Now in 2016, Australian Governments are better at keeping Indigenous kids locked up than keeping them at school. Are we happy for another 25 years to pass in which Indigenous children continue to have their futures taken away?” he says.
“Let’s instead see a new approach from Governments where they fund Indigenous-led programs to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children out of detention, and thriving in their communities”.