• Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay Jr. who died while in police custody in 2015 after being restrained by five prison officers in a Sydney cell. (NITV)Source: NITV
A searing documentary puts the justice system on trial.
NITV Staff Writers

5 Aug 2021 - 3:07 PM  UPDATED 6 Sep 2021 - 11:01 AM

Content Warning: This article contains subject matter that some readers may find distressing. 

Every day, thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across Australia wake up behind the bars of the country's prisons. Children live out their childhood in juvenile detention centres, hundreds of kilometres away from their family. Families continue to fight for justice and accountability for the deaths of their once imprisoned relatives, while the calls for solutions which empower Indigenous Australians to drive the change needed get louder.

Told by First Nations people; experts, academics and those impacted by the justice system, documentary Incarceration Nation lays bare the story of the continued systemic injustice and inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on their own land.

Watch the official trailer below:

*Content Warning* Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following contains images and voices of people who have passed, and images that may cause distress.


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are amongst the most incarcerated people in the world. Whilst representing 3.3 per cent of the Australian population, Indigenous men make up 27 per cent of prisoners and women constitute 34 per cent. Approximately 65 per cent of incarcerated children aged between 10 and 13 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. Indigenous youth make up 55 per cent of Australia’s youth prison population. There have been at least 478 Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia from 1991 to 20216 — and no criminal convictions for the accused. Incarceration Nation puts First Nations voices front and centre, as they fight for change, visibility and equality.

Writer and director and Guugu Yimithirr man Dean Gibson explores the firsthand devastation by those affected, meets those who are trying to make a difference and discusses this pervasive problem with some of our nation’s brightest minds. His mission? To find out how this issue has reached crisis point — so much so, that it has been recognised internationally as a human rights issue, yet isn’t at the top of the national agenda.

This issue is explored through archive footage and interviews with experts and academics including Federal Circuit Court Judge Matthew Myers, Australia’s Human Rights Commissioner from 2009 – 2016 Mick Gooda, barrister Joshua Creamer, Associate Professor Chelsea Watego, Professor Don Weatherburn, author Amy McGuire and lawyer Teela Reid. Incarceration Nation also gives voice to those for whom this is lived experience — Keenan Mundine, Carly Stanley as well as the Dungay, Fisher, Day and Hickey families who each share the trauma of losing a family member whilst they were in custody. Through these perspectives, Incarceration Nation reflects on Australia’s history, and how massacres, child removals, stolen wages, denial of education and over-policing, racism and systemic bias have continued to drive overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system, and the devastating impact it continues to have.

NITV’s Head of Commissioning and Programming, Kyas Hepworth hopes the film will ignite a timely and crucial conversation about Australia today, and that it may inspire change.

"For many Indigenous Australians, these are stories we have felt and unfortunately, we have known. The story of incarceration in Australia from a Blak perspective may open an unfamiliar discussion for some, but an important one that needs to be had," Hepworth says.

“As Australia’s dedicated First Nations broadcaster, our hope is that the voices and stories of those featured, and the many more they represent across Australia, are heard, understood and resonate long beyond broadcast.”

Writer and director Dean Gibson said, “Australia was founded by the English with one clear purpose — to create a prison island. Over 200 years later, not much has changed. Rather than housing criminals from England, we are filling our jails with our most vulnerable and disadvantaged population.

“Australia was founded by the English with one clear purpose — to create a prison island. Over 200 years later, not much has changed." 

“Families live with the trauma of losing loved ones who have been in police custody or imprisoned, and that trauma continues when no one is held accountable. No justice, no peace. Incarceration Nation will be a national conversation starter that will challenge Australia and the justice system.”

NITV will also air a suite of programming that examines the issues around Indigenous incarceration in Australia:

  • At 8.30pm on Monday 23 August on Living Black, Karla Grant speaks with justice reformer Debbie Kilroy about how she is standing up for women behind bars, paying unpaid fines for prisoners and why she thinks a world without prisons is possible.
  • On Tuesday 24 August at 7.30pm, The Point will air a special feature interview with Dean Gibson, as well as extensive coverage of ongoing death in custody trials.
  • On Monday 30 August at 8.30pm on Living Black, Karla Grant will speak with youth justice advocate Keenan Mundine about how he turned his life around from being an orphan to a life in the criminal justice system to helping youth at risk of incarceration.

Incarceration Nation will be available to stream on SBS On Demand, with subtitled versions available in Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean. The program will also be audio described on NITV.

SBS will also air Incarceration Nation as part of the Australia Uncovered documentary series later this year.


Stream Incarceration Nation on SBS On Demand:


Those feeling affected by this content are encouraged to contact the following services for assistance:

Lifeline (24/7) — Call 13 11 14 or chat online

Headspace Yarn Safe

NACCHO community health service