April 15, 2021 marks 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody first handed down its findings.
Since then, more than 450 First Nations people have died in custody.
Since March this year, five First Nations people have died in Australia’s justice system.
The governments in Australia are not listening. They are ignoring the loudest of pleas from Blak voices across this country calling for the deaths of First Nations people in custody to stop.
Globally, the Black Lives Matter movement has sparked discussion and initiated real change. It is well past time for this country to have these same painful conversations and face the impact that colonisation and the ongoing dispossession is having on First Nations people.
Internationally, Australia ranks poorly in its treatment of First Nations people. And shockingly, First Nations people in Australia remain the most incarcerated people on earth.
First Nations people make up around three per cent of Australia’s population, but account for nearly 30 per cent of the prison population. We also continue to fail to close the gap on health outcomes, education, and income.
However, like all Indigenous peoples who are the by-product of colonial projects in Commonwealth countries, First Nations people in Australia continue to strive for justice and self-determination.
As a Noongar Yamiji woman and former police officer in Western Australia, I believe the solutions are right in front of us. We need to immediately implement the full recommendations of the Royal Commission in Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The lack of implementation can only be described as ‘unfinished business’.
I strongly believe dismantling the justice pipeline is possible and must be done through putting self-determination at the centre of the process.
It must be done through co-design, with a particular focus on youth justice and early intervention.
Investment into culturally safe education systems that engage First Nations families and build children’s resilience is critical to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage and poverty. Our children must be empowered to navigate the broader systems that were not built for or by us.
Out-of-home care and disengagement from education are the earliest indicators of a child’s vulnerability to the justice system. This is a particular concern for First Nations girls who are rendered invisible by a system that fails to recognise or cater to their particular issues or needs.
First Nations women have a significant role in our communities. They are strong and resilient Matriarchs who nurture and care for their families.
However, First Nations women are the fastest growing subpopulation in Australian prisons. Incarcerating them ruptures the social fabric of First Nations communities and creates significant life events for their children; further compounding intergenerational trauma.
Being caught in the justice pipeline with varying depths of trauma has been normalised in many First Nation communities due to epigenetics; the collective trauma passed to successive generations of people.
Multiple layers of grief and loss experienced in communities is further exacerbated by deaths in custody and youth suicides.
Australia’s convict past has perpetuated cycles of disadvantage and marginalisation. This stifled systemic approach does not recognise the ancient traditional cultural processes of Law/Lore that maintained social order for generations prior to colonisation.
Exercising our democratic right as First Nations people, we must have maximum control over our own lives and the health of our communities.
This can be achieved through Treaty(s) at State, Territory and Federal levels. This must be done as a matter of urgency.
We must also stop the privatisation of the prison industry. Prisons should never be run for profit. The funding for First Nations in justice systems continues to be quantified through funding models that incentivise increasing the number of prisoners, not driven by outcomes.
Recognising, deeply listening, respecting and understanding how our history manifests itself across our lives is important. Truth-telling in this nation is about giving a voice to these experiences and the acceptance that our nation’s systems — such as law and justice — were built as a positive legacy for mainstream Australia, not First Nations peoples.
To achieve change we need to acknowledge the ongoing impacts of colonisation that still affect First Nations people today. We cannot continue to ignore this for another 30 years.
By Dorinda Cox
Dorinda Cox is a proud Noongar/Yamiji woman and the lead Senate candidate for the Greens (WA) for the next federal election.