• Fifteen families who have lost loved ones in custody have started a petition asking the PM to meet with them. (AAP)Source: AAP
A coalition of Aboriginal peak organisations is calling for the NSW government to establish a Walama court circle sentencing program.
Keira Jenkins

4 Nov 2020 - 4:44 PM  UPDATED 4 Nov 2020 - 6:19 PM

A coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations (CAPO) in New South Wales is calling for the state's justice system to change, following the commencement of hearings for a new inquiry into Indigenous deaths in custody.

The coalition is calling for the state government to "rapidly and radically transform the justice system" through the establishment of circle sentencing, like a Walama court; enable independent investigations of deaths in custody and police misconduct; raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14; and create of state-based justice targets towards 'closing the gap'.

The coalition is made up of seven Aboriginal organisations- the NSW Aboriginal Land Council, the Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, First Peoples Disability Network, Aboriginal Health and Medical Council, AbSec, Link Up NSW and the NSW/ACT Aboriginal Legal Service.

Janelle Clarke, the CEO of Link Up NSW, an organisation which supports Stolen Generations survivors, told NITV News she wanted to see greater investment into Aboriginal-controlled organisations and programs.

"We understand what our mob are all about so wouldn't it be better to have an Aboriginal community-controlled organisation look after our own," she said.

"And not only that but it needs to be resourced and funded. That's going to reduce our overrepresentation in incarceration.

"It's a wraparound service that needs to be provided for our mob. It's about reducing the incarceration rates by providing a better service for our people."

'Urgent priorities'

Ms Clarke said while these recommendations are not new, and Aboriginal services and community have been calling for this change for a long time, it is important they are implemented as soon as possible.

"1991 was the royal commission into deaths in custody and we're still talking about deaths in custody," she said.

"We want to end the over-incarceration of our mob. There should be really urgent priorities for action like the establishment of the Walama court - that's been going on since May 2014, and we're still talking about it and it's 2020 now."

Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT chair Mark Davies said Indigenous voices need to be heard when reforms to the justice system are being discussed.

“It is critical that families’ voices are centred in all reforms and that the NSW government resource and fund Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to help Aboriginal people with high-quality culturally safe and timely assistance before, during, and after all coronial processes," he said.

“With nine coronial matters currently on foot, it is critical that the NSW government invest in a specialist ALS team to provide wraparound holistic support to families – who are forced to grieve and seek justice simultaneously.” 

The NSW parliament began looking into the oversight of deaths in custody and the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in the justice system last week as a coronial inquest into the death of Anaiwan man Nathan Reynolds was heard, and the shooting of Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone was referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

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