The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 1987-1991
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In October 1987, a Royal Commission was established to investigate 99 Aboriginal Deaths that occurred while in police custody or prison. The Commissioners made 339 recommendations but these have only been partially implemented. Today there are still difficulties arising within Indigenous Australian communities and prisons because the problem was not dealt with suitably in the past.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established in 1987, in response to a public outcry, particularly in the Indigenous community, over the number of Indigenous Australians dying while in prison or under police custody. It was established following an epidemic of 22 Aboriginal deaths in custody in a period of only six months. Aboriginal activists and their supporters campaigned for government action to address the issue of the high rates of Aboriginal people in custody and of their deaths.
Even during the three-year investigation by the Royal Commission, deaths were mounting up. By 30th November 1988, the total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody was 103 and rising. At this same point in time, the Commission had only investigated twenty-five of the ninety-nine deaths and Aboriginal groups were beginning to protest, not for the first time, at the slow progress of the Royal Commission.
The Royal Commission investigated the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. In doing so, it established a vivid profile of the lives of those who died-young people for the most part who had experienced unemployment, inadequate education, separation from their families, early contact with the criminal system, poor health, problems with alcohol, and economic and social disadvantages. The central fact for the establishment of the Royal Commission was that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people...