Thirty years ago, this week a Royal Commission recommended a raft of changes to prevent Aboriginal people dying in custody. Amongst those were measures to prevent incarceration in the first place – to lift Indigenous people out of poverty, close the gap in opportunity, increase young people’s access to education.
Today Aboriginal people are still thirty times more likely to be incarcerated than non-indigenous people. Five Indigenous people died in Australian jails in the last month. 470 since the Royal Commission recommendations three decades ago. And against the recommendations of Attorneys-General across the country, the two jurisdictions with the greatest Indigenous populations – in the Northern Territory and Queensland – are looking at ways to make it easier to lock up Indigenous children.
As a country we must do better than lock up our most vulnerable at the times they most need their communities and the support of a compassionate society. Ten year-old’s have no place in Australian jails and remand centres. Aboriginal children are more malnourished and despite advances in education in regional and remote areas far less likely to have access to secondary and tertiary education opportunities. They still die at a faster and younger rate than their non-indigenous brothers and sisters and they live in communities that have greater rates of violence, poverty and social dislocation.
These troubling social problems are humanity’s problems, and they are our problems to solve as a society. Let us all use the commemoration of the Royal Commission findings to look at our communities and look into our hearts. How can we do better as a society to help the most vulnerable and make our society better? We cannot call ourselves decent while these injustices are allowed to continue.
That’s just as I see it.