Much has been written about Aboriginal deaths in custody—much of it is the usual crap pumped out by the Aboriginal victim brigade. Fortunately, there have been some sensible counterviews. The Australian Institute of Criminology recently published ‘Indigenous deaths in custody: 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.’ It states what many of us already know: “NDICP data show Indigenous people are now less likely than non-Indigenous people to die in prison custody, largely due to a decrease in the death rate of Indigenous prisoners from 1999–2000 to 2005–06.”
Similarly, another earlier document by The Australian Institute for Health and Welfare (AIHW) entitled ‘The Health of Australia’s Prisoners: 2015’ states that for 2012-13: “With just over one-quarter (27%) of prisoners in custody being Indigenous, and 17% of deaths in custody being Indigenous, Indigenous prisoners were under-represented.” A more recent government document shows that in 2016-17 the death rate per 100 prisoners is .14 and .19 for Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners respectively. Of for those who are ‘fractionphobic’ then that would be 14 and 19 deaths per 10,000 prisoners for Indigenous and non-Indigenous prisoners respectively. The graph below best captures the trend that has dominated for several years.
Unfortunately, some people, perhaps as a result of being swept up in the ‘Black lives matter’ propaganda, believe that Aboriginal deaths in custody are over represented. And I say, ‘propaganda’ because it seems that when Black lives are lost at the hands of Black perpetrators, there is relative silence. They are not interested in hearing the truth, as only some Black lives seem to matter—those where a white man can be implicated.
In fact, the activists can get quite hostile when confronted with the truth. David Biles, a semi-retired criminologist, was for three years the head of the criminology research group of the Royal Commission. He has stated:
In the early days of the royal commission, when I and a small team of researchers were able to prove unequivocally that Aboriginal people were slightly less likely to die in prison or police custody than non-Aboriginal people, we were met with derision and disbelief. We were even accused of disloyalty to the royal commission.
The fate for Aboriginal people now who dare to speak uncomfortable truths is even worse. Myself, and others like Warren Mundine and Jacinta Price, are subjected to the most vile slanders for discussing the under-representation of Aboriginal deaths in custody, or other topics such as the high rates of violence and child abuse on Aboriginal communities.
For the ‘blactivists’ who are so keen to shout “Stop black deaths in custody,” you need to reflect and consider what harm your claims are doing to race relations and ultimately the lives of Aboriginal Australians.
In 2018, two Aboriginal teenagers tragically lost their lives in Perth’s Swan River while trying to evade police. I recall at the time that social media was full of claims by social justice warriors that this demonstrated just how fearful the boys were of police. Senator Pat Dodson was reported to have asked: “Why is the fear of police and in particular police in pursuit of such a magnitude that young people are prepared to risk their own lives by trying to swim across the Swan River rather than give themselves up?” One possible answer is that they have been fed the myth that Aboriginal people in custody are more likely to die than non-Aboriginal people in custody. In the case of these boys, it’s probably that they thought like boys in that they didn’t want to get caught and thought that the river did not pose a risk.
The grandfather of one of the boys was reported to have said “My grandson had the world at his feet” and “He made a mistake here and it cost him his life.” The father of the other boy was reported to have said the officers who were chasing him are not to blame for the tragedy. For those of you who are quick to promote the myth of elevated death rates for Aboriginal people in custody, can I ask you to think about these boys?
It is important that we do what we can to prevent Aboriginal people from entering custody in the first place, but it is equally important to educate the public on the true state of risk for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people once in custody.
An outcome not widely known is that upon discharge from prison, Aboriginal people are more positive about their mental health than non-Aboriginal people. Specifically, according to the AIHW, just over one half (51%) of Aboriginal discharges reported that their mental health was either a lot better or a little better, compared with a combined 38% for non-Aboriginal discharges.
This finding may relate to the poorer health status of Aboriginal people entering jail. They are an at-risk population already. As reported in The Australian, one senior police officer with more than 20 years’ experience in regional watch houses, speaking in regard to the West Australia context, stated that the complex health problems of many Aboriginal people, even young ones, should terrify police who are required to care for them.
Obsessions and misrepresentations regarding Black deaths in custody are as big a distraction from the serious problems facing Aboriginal people—like homelessness, poor health, violence, and unemployment—as are Australia Day protests. Further, they impair race relations and as such place lives in danger.
For the next person who goes to write a story promoting the myth that Aboriginal people in custody are at a higher risk of dying than non-Aboriginal people in custody, I hope your hand trembles.