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Australia Aboriginal youths 28 times more likely to end up in jail

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.

By Kathy MarksCorrespondent / March 26, 2010



Sydney

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.

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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 available.”

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.

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