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Essay Paper on Logbook on Aboriginal Death in Custody

by Jonathan Smith

The history of humanity has in store many examples of the dominating people mistreating and oppressing the minor one. Such discrimination seems to be an attribute of the ill-civilized past. However, the present problems of the existing indigenous population inAustraliaprove that violence has no limits within the centuries.

Aboriginals today belong to the most disadvantaged racial group in the Australian society. They often suffer from social neglect and prejudices. One of the recent examples is a 16-year-old Aboriginal youth without any substantional evidence was beaten and accused by two men of intrusion into their private property (Another Aboriginal Death in Custody).

However, according to the Director of Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) Duncan Chappell, the high rate of conflicts between criminal justice system and the Aboriginals is not the only problem of the latter, as they encounter various economic, social and cultural problems as well (Grabosky et al.).

The most apparent is the issue of Aboriginals dying in prison which now becomes a national alert for Australia. Statistics show that since 1989 more than 100 Aborigines have died in prison (Australia: 100th Aboriginal Death in Custody – Australia’s Day of Shame).

The growing rate of the custody deaths exposes the correction officials as incompetent and brutal employees. Here one starts questioning the adequacy of the coronial procedures and the proper conduct with the prisoners.

The existing problem can be viewed as a result of various causes starting from police brutality and ending with emotional despondence of the native population. However, none of them is sufficient enough to become the determinative one; therefore it is the complex of factors merged together that lead to the high rate of the custody deaths.

The most scandalous case of custody death is that of Mulrunji Doomadgee in November, 2004. The man’s death was a result of a fight with the police officer Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, in which Doomadgee suffered a ruptured liver and brocken ribs. The case had caused many riots and was interpreted as an accident and never as a murder, though the Doomadgee’s family strongly diagreed to it.

The status of the Queensland Police Service, and the Police Union, have been shaken by the poor way in of  handling the crisis from the start.

Doomadgee’s death has caused a violent response from the police. About 100 of seriously armed policemen came to the island and arrested 20 suspects guilty in property damage. At the same time the police investigation into Doomadgee’s death was contrastively different. Sergeant Hurley’s friends, responsible for the investigation, weren’t in a hurry. In the end the officials decided that there was no sufficient evidence to charge Sergeant Hurley with anything, even in terms of discipline.

Finally, in January, 2007 the case has been decided and the abuser will receive proper punishment. The exposure of indifference by Queensland Government and administration in this situation became a serious blow to their reputation.

The case of Doomadgee proves that the value of the black and the white man is not equal. In the course of trial it was ascertained that Doomadgee hasn’t even done anything serious enough to be imprisoned. This case has shown how badly are the affairs with the Aboriginals managed (Editorial: Death in Custody Charge Welcome).

Another custody victim is Lennie Casey, 39, who has died in Normanton shortly after his arrest. The police investigation of his case was watched by the Crime and Misconduct Commission (Another Aboriginal Death in Custody).

Australian Federal Government was urged to get a hold of the crisis connected caused by the growth of custody deaths rate and to make State Governments fight with discrimination of Aboriginal population. However this urge wasn’t sustained by a sufficient action as the higher level of Aboriginal prison deaths has emerged, according to Amnesty International.

To help the situation the Australian Institute of Criminology has issued a document containing the summary of the existing problem (including statistics) and a detailed guidance to the prevention of the custody deaths cases.

According to the statistics, in 90 percent of cases the deceased were men, 50 percent were under twenty-eight when they died, the most frequent cause of death was hanging, a large number of the deceased got imprisoned for minor reasons, most of the deaths in custody occurred in Western Australia and Queensland.

AIC suggests ceasing the exercise of imprisonment and introducing instead non-institutional alternatives for Aboriginal offenders, such as contribution to the community development. It will result in decrease of tax payments for correction services and will develop the sense of their significance for the community as well as promote their integration into this very community.

The second step on the way to improve the situation is the management of custodial services. It implies careful recruitment and assignment of the police and prison officers and their further training, monitoring and reception of prisoners on arrival and a special facility (cell) design.

The further steps include making the internal investigation of such cases public. The coronial investigation in its turn should be conducted by comprehensively trained people and should allow a close member of the family of the deceased to participate in the investigation assisted by the correspondent legal aid.

In terms of criminal liability AIC suggests laying criminal charges not only against the individual abusers but also against the agencies and organizations where the systematic law violation is taking place. If the custody administration deliberately neglects the medical needs of prisoners having already experienced several repeated cases of death within its cells, it becomes possible then to lay criminal charges against the department as an organizational defendant.

The litigation of civil cases in theUSAhas helped to reduce the risk of death in the prison cell. AIC urges the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to broad the law of standing and provide access to legal representation to prisoners inside the custody and to survivors of those who die in custody. A successful civil trial is compensation for the victim’s relative for the loss and a stimulus to self-regulatory initiatives to improve prison conditions by the police or correction agency.

Other legal means of protection are not yet available inAustralia, according to AIC (Grabosky and others).

The cases of Aboriginal custody deaths create grounds for regarding the conduct of the government as indifferent and discriminative. The indigenous population deserves special protective treatment from the representatives of power, as the Aboriginals themselves represent a unique ethnic unit. Without well-organized special care and protection this ethnicity is doomed to fall into oblivion, burying with themselves their cultural heritage. The unanimous neglect of the existing problems by the society and country’s government is an indirect way of killing the minor racial group.

On the other hand many Australians consider their social structure to be relatively flat and see through the problem of indigenous population. In such a way general indifference slows down the solution of the urgent racial problems.

Naturally a question arises: how soon will the statistics of custody deaths distract citizens’ attention form the perfect Australia Day celebration and make them do something?

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Editorial: Death in Custody Charge Welcome, January 27,2007 Retrieved from: http://www.theaustralian.news.com.au/story/0,20867,21123567-601,00.html

Another Aboriginal Death in Custody, December 4, 2004 Retrieved from: http://www.theage.com.au/news/National/Another-Aboriginal-death-in-custody/2004/12/04/1101923368869.html

Australia: 100th Aboriginal Death in Custody – Australia’s Day of Shame. Retreived from: http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA120101996?open&of=ENG-2S5

Grabosky P., Scandia A., Hazlehurst K., Wilson P. Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Australian Institute of Criminology, trends and issues in crime and criminal justice. Retrieved from: http://aic.gov.au/publications/tandi/ti12.pdf

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