Thursday, November 25, 2010

Australia's shocking record of killing people in custody

In today's West Australian social justice campaigner and activist Gerry Georgatos has published an important opinion piece about the hidden and shocking history of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal deaths in custody in Australia. Gerry documents how the number of deaths in custody continues to increase.

Gerry alerts us to the extent of deaths in custody in this country and the shocking reality that every five days an Australian dies in custody. Gerry argues that the rate of deaths in custody in this country is worse than in South Africa at the height of the apartheid system. 

The propensity to lock up people unnecessarily is a major cause of the problem. As politicians and large segments of society support the use of mass incarceration as a response to growing social and economic problems, the country's shocking history of killing people in custody will only continue.

One of the interesting unanswered questions is that this rise in the prevalence of deaths in custody has occurred at the same time as the systems of incarceration and criminal justice have been privatized and private corporations have entered the field. Corporations, such as Serco, are now embedded in the systems of incarceration in this country. These corporations run prisons, prison management, prison transport, prison security immigration detention centres, prison support services, to name a few.

Increasingly the responsibility for running prisons  and detention and incarceration systems  is now under the control of hugely powerful and profitable multi- national corporations. These corporations and other powerful vested interests who benefit from the law and order and "tough on crime" agenda will undermine any reform that threatens their profits or their interests. In such a context the reality is that more people are going to die in custody.

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