First Nations services have used Closing the Gap Day to call out downfalls in the structures which see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people marginalised by the justice system.
On Thursday, the Law Council of Australia urged the justice system and governments to make meaningful changes to close the gap and implement recommendations made in past inquiries and royal commissions.
The points made highlighted areas requiring attention for beneficial change with limited examples of how to exercise them.
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service suggested failures in the system are ingrained.
VALS chief executive and Yorta Yorta woman Nerita Waight said the justice system was incapable of benefitting First Nations people who were at a systemic disadvantage.
“The current justice system is a colonial justice system” she said.
“It’s designed for the benefit of white people.”
Aboriginal deaths in custody and overrepresentation in incarceration rates were attributed by VALS and the LCA as key indicators of injustice.
“At least 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in the 30 years since the Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody,” Ms Waight said.
“That’s one of our people dying in custody every three weeks
“Our people continue to die preventable deaths in custody because governments are apathetic and Australian voters are apathetic”
Ms Waight said incarceration numbers reflected the position of Indigenous people within the political and social landscape as a whole.
Homelessness, the education system, workforce discrimination, racism and over-policing were identified by VALS as contributors to disparity.
“Most people end up in the justice system because society has failed to provide them with basic needs, like a home or proper healthcare,” Ms Waight said.
“Once our people are in the justice system they are subjected to systemic racism from police, the courts, and prison staff.
“Most people get trapped in the justice system for the rest of their lives.”
VALS conceded the cost of inadequately addressing these issues would likely see devastating results.
Ms Waight said the service had seen an increasing rate of self-harm through the wider community.
“Victoria just had a royal commission into mental health, but government institutions are still failing our people when they have mental health crises,” Ms Waight said.
“This is the end result of all the discrimination and trauma we face in the justice system and society”
Law Council of Australia president Tass Liveris said closing the gap must be led by governments and community stakeholders.
“(Closing the gap) will also require First Nations peoples to have a greater ability to lead and participate in the development and delivery of strategies.. aimed at improving outcomes,” he said.
Despite these intentions, Ms Waight said a more acute approach was required to effect change, and community should be the sole contributors.
“Self-determination is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people having control over the issues that affect us,” she said
“With a new closing the gap agreement signed just a few years ago, a lot of new targets were agreed.
“We believe that they are very modest and easily achievable targets if governments invest in self-determined initiatives.”
Ms Waight said those targets were a long way off being reached.