The shocking revelations that arose from the inquest into the death in custody of 22-year-old Indigenous woman Ms Julieka Dhu was a hot topic at a Sydney forum on Tuesday night.
“The Julieka Dhu case is a real case where what was supposed to be learnt from the Deaths in Custody Royal Commission wasn’t learnt,” Dr Thalia Anthony told The Point.
“It showed that Aboriginal people are being put into prison for the wrong reasons, because she was put into prison for the wrong reason.”
“All the things that were suggested in the royal commission seemed to have gone wrong in this case. In fact we are still seeing aboriginal people arrested under the same entrenched bias as what happened 25 years ago.”
Dr Anthony was one of the key speakers at a forum held by Amnesty International and the University of Technology Sydney examining ongoing challenges in policing, policy, judicial culture and endemic criminalisation of Indigenous youth.
More than 300 people attended the forum, which also featured speeches by Craig Longman, Lawyer and Senior Researcher at UTS Jumbunna Indigenous House of Learning and Roxanne Moore, Amnesty International Human Rights Lawyer.
Dr Anthony is an expert in criminal law and procedure, and Indigenous people and the law.
She says our efforts to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates have failed, with Indigenous prison population doubling in the past 25 years- from 14 percent of the prison population in 1991, to percent today.
She believes this largely stems from flawed government policies.
“It’s an issue of wanting to lock up more people rather than wanting to provide them with the necessary support services,” she says.
“Our response is increasingly to pump resources into the penal system and neglect the underlying issues which the Royal Commission identified as the primary causes for Indigenous over-imprisonment and under resource services, particularly services that are run by the Aboriginal communities themselves.”
She believes we need to attack this issue at both ends - rethinking our law and order model, and investing in communities.
“It costs about $400 dollars a day to keep someone in prison and $3.4. billion dollars is the current expenditure rate - that money could be put into services that address the underlying issues that cause offending, and address issues relating to Indigenous wellbeing, healing trauma that really go to the heart of over-imprisonment rates,” she says.