The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has today called for major reforms to the NSW criminal justice system after the death in custody of Tane Chatfield last week.
The 22-year-old had spent almost two years on remand at Tamworth correctional centre for an alleged armed robbery before corrections officers allegedly found him unresponsive in his cell at about 9 am on September 20.
NSW ALC Chair Roy Ah-See and councillor for northern region Charles Lynch said the death was a tragedy and another life unnecessarily lost in the criminal justice system.
“The latest death in custody is a reminder of the need for better partnerships between the criminal justice system and Aboriginal organisations and for community-centred alternatives to prison," they said in a statement obtained by NITV News.
“While Aboriginal peoples account for only three percent of our nation’s population, they make up 27 percent of Australia’s adult prison population."
It's the third high-profile death in custody in NSW of an Indigenous person from unnatural causes after the death of Eric James Whittaker, 35, from an unexplained head injury in June, was revealed by NITV News and the death of Maitland woman Ms Maher in July 2016.
Mr Chatfield’s mother, Nioka Chatfield, said the family is deeply unsatisfied with the way they’ve been treated by Corrective Services NSW, and questioned their version of events.
“Why would he sit in jail for two years on remand [before he was] just about to clear his name? [All he had to do was] wait to District Court, then he might’ve been coming home. Now, why would my boy do that? I’m not saying anything against the correctional centre, I’m not going to say anything else, I just wanna know why, ” she told NITV News.
“I never got notified that he got to [the] hospital the night before nor did I get notified that he was on life support,” she protests.
“I asked ... ‘why didn’t you knock at my door? Why didn’t you ring me?’.”
But Corrective Services NSW has told NITV News they notified Mr Chatfield’s next of kin and followed their standard procedure.
Corrective services said the death was being investigated by police who were not treating it as suspicious.
Mr Ah-See said the death had showed things had not improved in the decades since the Royal Commission into deaths in custody.
“It’s devastating for members of our community to go through the trauma of losing our young people in the prison system.
“And it’s frustrating that the imprisonment rate continues to soar more than 25 years after a Royal Commission was held into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.