The recent deaths of several Australia Aboriginal prisoners in
custody has sparked fresh criticism over the state's perceived
failure to heed longstanding recommendations of a royal commission
on the issue.
The death of several Australian Aborigines who have died in
prison or police custody around the country recently has underscored
the disproportionately high percentage of Aborigines among the
country's incarcerated - a result in part of overcrowded housing and
low education rates that go hand in hand with violence and petty
crime. But discrimination is also to blame, say critics.
The picture is especially bleak for young indigenous people, who
are 28 times more likely to end up in juvenile detention according
to the latest official figures. In one notorious case last November,
police charged a 12-year-old boy in Western Australia with receiving
a chocolate frog allegedly stolen from a supermarket.
Aboriginal adults are six times more likely to be arrested than
other Australians and 13 times more likely to be jailed. In the
Northern Territory, they make up 80 percent of the prison population
although only one-third of the territory's residents are indigenous.
Arrested for drunkenness, Doomadgee dies in jail
A young man named Mulrunji Doomadgee, of Palm Island off
Queensland's coast, was one such Australian Aborigine who was caught
up in the criminal justice system. Arrested for drunkenness and
swearing, he was found dead in a cell after a struggle with the
policeman who had brought him in, Chris Hurley.
Critics say Doomadgee's offense is precisely the type that does
not warrant automatic arrest and imprisonment.
"The initial apprehension and locking up of Mulrunji Doomadgee
were as much an issue as what happened afterwards," says Chris
Cunneen, a law professor at the University of New South Wales. "They
showed how police are far too ready to arrest and take aboriginal
people into custody in situations where there would be alternatives
In a 2005 inquest into Doomadgee's death, Mr. Hurley - the first
officer ever charged in relation to the death of an Aborigine in
custody - was found responsible for the prisoner's fatal injuries.
But he was acquitted of manslaughter and continues to serve in the
Queensland force. A second inquest was launched earlier this month,
at the same time that relatives and supporters of another prisoner
who died in state custody, Stephen Currie, were protesting at the
state parliament building in Brisbane.
Meanwhile, a number of Palm Islanders, who in 2004 protested
Doomadgee's death, are serving jail sentences. …