One-fifth of the 750 deaths in custody that have occurred in the 25 years since the 1991 Royal Commission were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Professor Pat Dodson has told the Press Club.
Prof Dodson said a solution may be to lower incarceration rates by promoting ‘justice reinvestment’.
This is where a portion of the money normally spent by governments on imprisonment, $292 a day on average in Australia, is invested into programs to stop people offending in the first place or to try to prevent them re-offending.
“Accepting the status quo permits the criminal justice system to continue to suck us up like a vacuum cleaner and deposit us like waste in custodial institutions,” he told the press club in Canberra.
“I would hope that we are better than that. We must be better than that. There is no choice here,” he said.
“Justice reinvestment is one of the new approaches in dealing with rising incarceration rates of Indigenous peoples around the world.”
Prof Dodson also outlined three cases where Indigenous people had died in police custody before they had even been placed into correctional facilities.
Despite these alarming figures, he said there were many people in the police forces working with the community.
“I think there are many police that are trying to do the right thing,” he said.
“I don’t think every police officer’s necessarily opposed.
“There may be some but as you’ve seen in WA with the women at Fitzroy Crossing who took an initiative to ban full-strength alcohol, they had the support of the police commissioner in that initiative.”