Amnesty International Australia expresses its sorrow following the death of a 41-year old Indigenous man remanded in custody in Hakea Prison, Western Australia. Coming just weeks after Indigenous teenager Cleveland Dodd died by suicide inside Casuarina Prison’s controversial Unit 18 juvenile wing, the fact that yet another Indigenous life has been lost is outrageous and unacceptable, and highlights a system that is fundamentally broken.
In a statement today, WA Police said they will be investigating the death and will prepare a report for the coroner. This is despite the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which clearly states 339 recommendations, including the need for independent investigations to ascertain the circumstances of any Indigenous deaths in custody. The recommendations are designed to prevent further deaths in custody, however, have failed to be implemented.
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous Rights Advisor and Palawa Elder, Uncle Rodney Dillon, today said: “There needs to be a higher level of scrutiny and culpability when it comes to Indigenous deaths in custody. Each case should be investigated independently by a criminal investigator, and not rely on a government coroner. Our mob are dying inside these prisons. No one has been found responsible, and there are no recommendations coming from the coroner that are stopping deaths in custody.”
Amnesty International Australia’s Community Engagement Associate Campaigner, Rachael McPhail, said: “It is heartbreaking to hear that there has been yet another Indigenous death in custody, less than 3 weeks after the last tragedy in a WA prison. These are preventable deaths that are caused by systemic racism, unconscious bias and a justice system that is heavily stacked against First Nations Peoples. I urge the Western Australian government to appoint an independent body to investigate the circumstances of this death in custody, as per the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”
Since 1991, 450 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody and prison. Amnesty International Australia has repeatedly called for the prevention of Indigenous deaths in custody, by urging governments to implement the 339 recommendations made by the 1991 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody.
In 2017, Australia ratified the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT), established to ensure governments were protecting the rights, health and safety of people in any kind of detention facility, including prisons, youth detention centres, immigration detention, hospital, aged care and disability facilities.
In 2021, 30 countries of the United Nations Human Rights Council publicly condemned the Australian government for the grave human rights violations being committed in its detention and prison facilities.
In January 2023, OPCAT was forced to cancel its planned visit to inspect Australia’s detention and prison facilities, as the Australian government failed to meet its deadline in implementing its commitments to the OPCAT convention.
Amnesty International has repeatedly called for an end to the use of solitary confinement and has urged the government to implement the Royal Commission’s recommendations that tackle the root causes of imprisonment, by focusing on diverting people away from prisons and removing hanging points from prisons. Amnesty International has also called for there to be accountability for these repeated deaths in custody.