by ray jackson, president, indigenous social justice association
Why are deaths in custody rising? a very good article from ms. inga ting on the abject and sorry state of the national gaol systems and the horrific number of deaths in custody but especially nsw.
whilst pm howard shut down the legal requirement for the governments of the states and territories and their appropriate departments in 1998 because, according to him, the allocated $400 million had been spent. some of this money was spent on building new police stations, the macquarie fields station being but one example.
when it was opened i and some others were invited to come and see their jewel in the police crown. what they wanted was for us to be photographed outside the new station and giving it the rciadic tick of approval. they got the photo opportunity but not the approval.
this was a million dollar plus use of the dic/rciadic monies and they spent up big. carpeted throughout, huge fishtanks, whilst muzak also wafted sweet music through the building. what the station also contained was 4, yes, 4 only concrete boxes with bars. no carpets, no fish, no music and no heating or cooling. the cells contained the obligatory hanging points. most certainly r165 was totally ignored. the cells also contained the recommended cameras but they were placed, perhaps purposely, to take in the full view of the shower and toilet in each cell. when this was pointed out to the el supremo of the station, along with the hanging points, the dismissive reply was that all the officers were specially trained to monitor the cells vis-a-vis the hanging points but to ignore the shower and the toilets when necessary.
we were never invited back and ms phyllis may was found hung in june 1992. the police, nationally, still continue to totally ignore the recommendations.
but as gerry georgatos has pointed out our nations' gaols are defaulting badly and are echoing the bad old days pre-rciadic. why is the gaol rate of dic rising so dramatically? it is, of course, not just because of the numbers although this is an important factor. the main reason i believe is the ratio of officers to inmates being dangerously reduced, but still not as bad as the private gaols, but the nsw commissioner and minister are actively working on it.
knowing ex- senior assistant commissioner, catriona mccomish, i read with great interest her views of the important introduced programmes then being destroyed when it no longer suited the commissioner due to its costs and no longer being of interest to the security needs of the commissioner. programmes have steadily been downgraded to the end that working for corrective services industries is more favoured as a possible rehabilitative process. it seems that education, life skills, etc. are no longer the requisite to help inmates not to be a recidivism statistic, better to make dollars for the system.
the custodial systems need to return to the rciadic recommendations to provide life saving procedures for all.
there are far too many people in the nsw gaols but they, the gaols, are at the bottom of the heap. they must take what is sent to them. their job, their duty of care, is to keep inmates alive long enough to be able to rehabilitate them. we know, and they know, that they are failing and failing miserably. instead of continuing to expand the nsw commissioner's empire with the same failed system he needs to properly ensure that the 61 recommendations are properly implemented. especially r122 re duty of care and r165 re the removal of evident hanging points. if corrective services were a private company rather than a government one funded on taxpayers dollars they would have been shut down years ago for failing to live up to their charter and mission statement.
they would also have been done for false advertising for not living up to their hype. but as i said they are at the tail-end of the process.
the second level that is ignoring the recommendations and also failing badly is the nsw courts, including juvenile justice and the coroners courts, and the judiciary. the courts have 29 recommendations. perhaps the most important recommendation is r92 that calls for incarceration as a matter of last resort. this should be easier than it looks but with the avid input of the police and dpp's, it is not. i would really like for a statistician to look at court trials, including juvenile justice, say from 1/1/2000 to 1/12/2010 and compile three sets of figures. firstly the overall statistics of the number of times police/dpp opposed bail thus getting a person sent to gaol. then to break the figures down to aboriginal and -non-aboriginal. i would argue that there would be a statiscally larger number of opposition to bail for both aboriginal adults and youth than for non-aboriginal adults and youths. just a hunch but i reckon i'm right.
that only leaves the snakes head, the police. the police, as i keep repeating, has never and will never accept the recommendations as being any part of their responsibilities. as a nsw deputy commissioner told me quite forcefully, inter alia, the recommendations are not for us, they are for the politicians, our job is to catch criminals and protect the public. and that view remains rock-solid across australia.
so where does that leave us individuals calling, and protesting, for justice? right out in the bloody cold! regardless of the tragedies born from such an arrogant, racist and unfeeling attitudes, the police force still power on protecting, not the poor and the vulnerable, but their own and the governments/establishment.
the royal commissioners themselves clearly recognised the social unattractiveness of the history of police malpractices and allocated no less than 99 recommendations in a vain attempt to humanise them and their corrupt work methods. of the 99, or some 34.1% of the 338 recommendations accepted by the hawke government in 1991, must be fully and firmly instituted to make the whole system of recommended changes work to the benefit of all and not for just some. some of the most important recommendations are:
r35 a to e/36. investigations should be approached on the basis that the death may be a homicide. suicide should never be presumed ( this applies to police investigations of deaths in gaols, juvenile centres or courts). matters of investigation should include general care, treatment and supervision of the deceased prior to death. along with other pertinent investigative matters. .
r41 that all dic be reported to the coroner and to the australian institute of criminality for statistical purposes.
r60 that violent or rough treatment or verbal or racist abuse of aboriginal detainees, including women and youth be monitored and cease as a practice. such treatment must be identified as disciplinary breaches and dealt with as such.
r81/85 that police arrest for drunkenness include alternative options of taking the person home or to a proclaimed place such as a sobering-up centre.
r86 that offensive and racist language by police cease.
r87a that arrest be as a matter of last resort.
r90 that bail be considered whenever possible.
r94 that community service orders be accepted as a serious option. that such cso options include personal development courses.
r122 that all custodial officers recognise their legal duty of care to those in their custody.
123 that all custodial areas establish clear policies for breaches of departmental instructions.
r125/126 screening forms to be completed on arrest and again in incarceration.
127a-f i-ix that proper medical services to persons in police custody be given.
r133 that all police, at all levels, be trained to properly evaluate detainees in distress.
r134 that police instructions require that at all times police interact with detainees in a humane and courteous manner.
r137 that upon arrest and/or incarceration police or prison officers monitor their detainees/inmates for the first 2 hours by checking them at least every 15 minutes and thereafter at least every hour.
r140 that all police cells be fitted with an alarm intercom systems, similar to gaol cells.
r144 that wherever an aboriginal person is put into a cell, where possible he go in with another aborigine.
r159/160 that police stations and gaols have readily available resuscitation equipment of the highest quality.
r177 that those custodial officers with blatant racist views be not employed.
r226 a-k that complaint procedures against police be urgently reviewed and updated as required.
r239/240 that police proceed, when dealing with juveniles, with the use of formal or informal cautions or a court attendance notice rather than arrest.
r242/243 that juveniles not spend extended hours in a police cell.
i realise that i have gone on a bit, as they say, but i have tried to show the broad scope of recommendations that would allow for positive change with the police methods if only our weak-kneed governments would force the cops, under pain of dismissal, to properly and fully implement all 99 recommendations appertaining to their area.
i believe that i have clearly shown the way to stop the increase in incarceration numbers, along with the subsequent decrease in dic numbers. by fixing the systems for atsi peoples the positive flow-on effects would also work for the non-atsi peoples as well.
after 20 years it is proven beyond a doubt that if and when the police accept their duty of care responsibilities then something positive would be possible for the courts and the gaols and juvenile justice and the raison detre for the recommendations would be allowed to work without prejudice.