Reflections on criminal justice policy since the Royal commission into aboriginal deaths in custody

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was established in 1987 and reported to the Federal Parliament in 1991. It was generated by the activism from Aboriginal organisations including the Committee to Defend Black Rights and Aboriginal Legal Services, the families of those who had died in custody and their supporters. The Royal Commission provided a benchmark in the examination of Indigenous relations with the criminal justice system. There is certainly strong evidence to suggest that the results of the Royal Commission have not been as expected. Despite the Royal Commission, Indigenous people remain dramatically over-represented in the criminal justice system. Deaths in custody still occur at unacceptably high levels and the recommendations of the Royal Commission are often ignored. Rather than a reform of the criminal justice system we have seen the development of more punitive approaches to law and order giving rise to expanding reliance on penal sanctions. Coupled with this greater reliance on penal sanctions, has been an inability to effectively generate a greater sense of obligation and responsibility among custodial authorities towards those who are incarcerated. The deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody is still as much of an issue today as it was two decades ago.
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