Indigenous man dies in Victorian prison - the third Australian death in custody in a week

The man's death at Ravenhall Correctional Centre on Sunday marks the third Indigenous death in custody in Australia over a week-long period.

General view of signage outside of the Ravenhall Correction Centre in Melbourne, Wednesday, July 22, 2021

General view of signage outside of the Ravenhall Correction Centre in Melbourne, Wednesday, July 22, 2021 Source: AAP

Authorities in Victoria have confirmed the death of an Aboriginal prisoner, marking the third Indigenous death in custody across Australia over a week-long period.

Corrections Victoria said the man died at Ravenhall Correctional Centre on 7 March.

"We recognise that all deaths in custody have impacts on family members, friends, corrections staff and the Aboriginal community, and we’re working to ensure they are provided with the support they need," Corrections Victoria said in a statement.

The coroner has been informed of the man's death and will formally determine its cause.

It comes after the deaths in custody of two other Indigenous people in NSW were revealed on Tuesday to have occurred last week.

A man in his mid-30s died on 2 March at Long Bay Hospital. Authorities believe his death was "natural" and that he had "multiple" medical issues.

Three days later, a woman in her mid-50s died at Silverwater Women's Prison. She is believed to have taken her own life.

The NSW government did not publicly announce the deaths, with the latter only revealed during questioning at budget estimates.

The NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service on Tuesday called on the NSW government to be more transparent and timely with sharing information about deaths in custody with the public. 

"The NSW government has an obligation to let people know things that are in the public interest, and this includes when there has been a death in their care," CEO Karly Warner said. 

There have been more than 440 recorded deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody in Australia since a royal commission into the issue was completed three decades ago.

“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made multiple recommendations in 1991, yet many of these haven’t been acted upon. Too many reports and inquiries end up as little more than paper gathering dust, which means people continue to suffer preventable deaths,” Ms Warner said.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said on Thursday it was “deeply saddened” by the death at Ravenhall Correctional Centre.

“This death highlights the urgent need for sweeping reforms to the justice system,” CEO Nerita Waight said. “Our people are grossly overrepresented in the criminal legal system and in prisons. We have the solutions ready for government. We just need them to listen and act.”

Federal Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe said the fact that Aboriginal people were still dying in custody 30 years after the royal commission proved “the system was broken”.

“This is relentless and traumatising for our people,” she said. “At this point you have to say the system is deeply racist.”

On Tuesday, the Victorian government announced a nation-first inquiry into the injustices committed against Aboriginal Victorians since colonisation.

The Yoo-rrook Justice Commission will be independent of government and have the powers of a royal commission.

With AAP.

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Published 11 March 2021 at 10:11am, updated 11 March 2021 at 11:59am
By Evan Young