Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Snap Action at 107 Redfern, 23 Jan 2019

Last night I attended a 'Snap action Solidarity fundraiser' organised by  Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA Sydney) and Fighting In Resistance Equally (FIRE). ISJA meets every Wednesday at Redfern Community Centre

David Dungay

The "Snap Action" was to raise money for the family of David Dungay who died in custody at Long Bay Prison at Malabar in Sydney.

The NSW Coroners investigation into Dungay's death was adjourned last July and will resume on Wednesday 6 March 2018.

"Mr Dungay was just weeks away from release, when he died during a cell transfer at Long Bay jail hospital in December 2015.
He was held down by five prison officers after he was told to stop eating a packet of biscuits.
The court was played footage showing Mr Dungay transferred to the second cell while handcuffed and then injected with the sedative midazolam. Mr Dungay said 12 times that he couldn’t breathe." -  Family 'devastated’ as Coroner delays Dungay death in custody inquest, NITV, 27 Jul 2018 - 6:13pm

Leetona Dungay is asking for the wider community's presence at the NSW Coroner's Court when the inquiry resumes on March 6.

TJ Hickey

The 15th anniversary of 17 year old TJ Hickey's death will be marked on 14 February 14 2019.

"This inquest has therefore focussed primarily on the manner of death of T. J. Hickey. In fact I am able to find, at the outset, to the effect that Thomas James Hickey died at 1.20 am on 15th February 2004 at Sydney Childrens’ Hospital Randwick, of penetrating injury of neck and chest sustained on the morning of 14th February 2004 when he fell from his bicycle and was impaled upon a steel fence at the rear of 1 Phillip Street Waterloo. The injury was probably non-survivable.

In terms of manner of death I must also come to a conclusion as to whether or not this is, after all, a Section 13A (Section 13A(1)(b): as a result of or during police operations) death. For if it is so assessed, then not only is this a mandatory inquest but in due course a synopsis of the case must find its way into the 2004 Annual Report of the State Coroner to the NSW Parliament. It also follows that if the death is assessed as being as a result of or during police operations, the role, if any, of police in the death ought to be explained.

I am in fact satisfied that, though technical, this death is a death during police operations within the meaning of Section 13A, Coroners Act 1980." - 287/04 Aboriginal male aged 17 died on 15 February 2004 at Randwick. Finding handed down on 17 August 2004 at Glebe by John Abernethy, NSW State Coroner,
Report by the NSW State Coroner into deaths in custody/police operations, 2004

Further Reading 

Sorry for your Loss at Boomalli

1. "Proportionally, we are the most incarcerated people on the planet. We are not an innately criminal people. Our children are aliened from their families at unprecedented rates. This cannot be because we have no love for them." - Uluru Statement from the Heart, 2017 

2.Complex factors lead to women and girls' entering and returning to prison. Criminalisation is usually the outcome of repeated and intergenerational experiences of violence, poverty, homelessness, child removal and unemployment, resulting in complex health issues and substance use. First Nations women and girls are massively over-represented in prison due to the racism at the foundation of systems of social control...Sisters Inside 

3. Four Indigenous creatives and academics, Professor Larissa Behrendt, Assoc Professor Pauline Clague, Dr Lou Bennett, and Dr Romaine Moreton, have worked with community to re-voice the stories of Aboriginal women who have died in custody....- Sorry for Your Loss Project (2018)

4. Indigenous Deaths in Custody 1989 - 1996:
"3.1 Indigenous people were 16.5 times more likely than non-indigenous people to die in custody between 1990 and 1995. This rate reflects the disproportionately high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody. 
3.2 The disproportion in the rate of death was the highest in South Australia (31.7) followed by Victoria (18.8), New South Wales (17.0), Queensland (16.8), Northern Territory (7.7) and Tasmania (2.8). 
3.3 Indigenous prisoners were 1.26 times more likely to die in prison than non-non-indigenous prisoners.
3.4 Indigenous people who died in custody are significantly younger than non-Indigenous people. The rate of death for Indigenous women in custody was higher than the corresponding rate for Indigenous men. 
3.5 The proportion of deaths in police and prison custody was similar for Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Approximately one-third of deaths occurred in police custody while two-thirds of deaths occurred in prison.
3.6 Deaths from police pursuit have increased for both groups while deaths in police institutional settings have declined. 
3.7 Indigenous people were more likely to die from natural causes while non-indigenous people were more likely to die from gunshot and drug overdoses." - A Report prepared by the Office of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission, October 1996


  1. Western Australia refuses to change the laws where people who have no criminal convictions are imprisoned if they do not have the capacity to pay a fine. People are languishing in prison for not being able to pay their fines. Single Aboriginal mothers make up the majority of those in prison who do not have the capacity to pay fines. They are living in absolute poverty and cannot afford food and shelter for their children let alone pay a fine. They will never have the financial capacity to pay a fine. So we would like 10,000 donors to raise funds to free women from prison and have warrants vacated. https://www.gofundme.com/bfvnvt-freethepeople


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