Urgent action needed on Indigenous deaths in police custody

Professor Elena Marchetti

Recent high-profile deaths of Indigenous people in police custody show a lack of meaningful progress despite over 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody says a Griffith University law professor.

Professor Elena Marchetti says while a recent Australian Institute of Criminology report shows deaths of Indigenous people have declined proportionally and are fewer than non-Indigenous deaths in prison, there was less certainty about police custody deaths.

“While the report is unable to note trends because of a lack of data, there are concerning patterns emerging that in my view show a lack of proper care taken by police that could prevent these deaths from happening,” Professor Marchetti said

The Griffith academic is lending her support to calls for examining police culture following Kumanjayi Walker’s death which sparked protests around Australia and the remote Northern Territory community Yuendumu, where he died.

“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is still such a relevant report but the momentum for its full implementation disappeared and yet we’re seeing many similar cases emerging”

“A lot has to do with what police are doing at the moment in terms of placing people into watch houses and not providing adequate medical care and ignoring people who say they are not well,” she said.

According to Elena there needs to be an ‘ongoing and honest discussion’ about what is happening when Indigenous people encounter law enforcement.

“We keep doing inquiries, but we know what the root of the problem is and that is ongoing systemic racism that has been institutionalized within police culture, which we have not yet properly addressed. Many sectors of the criminal justice system need more work in this area,” Professor Marchetti said.

She also urges working closely with Indigenous communities on any future actions taken by State or Federal government to address these issues.

“Whenever we’re talking about changing systems or institutions in relation to Indigenous communities, we tend to do it without consultation and assume we have all the knowledge and experience to make the right changes.”

“There is a lot of value in consulting and working together with members of the community.”

Professor Elena Marchetti recently published Indigenous Courts, Culture and Partner Violence which presents ‘new insights into Indigenous-centered responses to partner violence’.