Since June this year, an Upper House Select Committee has been inquiring into the over-representation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system and the oversight and review of deaths of First Nations people in custody.

The unacceptably high level of First Nations people in custody is a significant and important issue in New South Wales and the basis for this inquiry. The Chair of the Select Committee, the Hon Adam Searle MLC, commented on this problem when the inquiry was first established:

“… I think we can agree that the tragedy for First Nations people not just in New South Wales but in Australia is their over-representation in the criminal justice system, in the custodial system and in terms of disadvantage as evidenced in the very many gaps that remain to be closed in educational attainment, health, longevity, employment—you name it; there is a problem.”

You can read further comments from the Chair and other Legislative Council members relating to the establishment of the inquiry here.

The committee received 131 submissions to the inquiry, with a large number of them highlighting the significant problem of over-representation of First Nations people in custody and the reasons why this might be the case. The full list of submissions received can be found here.

The inquiry also focuses on the oversight and review of deaths in custody. The committee in particular is looking at how all the oversight bodies in New South Wales who have a role in this space are structured and whether they could or should be consolidated into a single oversight body.

Oversight bodies who appeared before the committee to give evidence on this issue included the NSW Ombudsman, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission and the Inspector of Custodial Services.

The committee also heard from legal experts, including community legal centres, Aboriginal community groups and organisations and researchers in this field, as well as organisations focused on supporting women and youth in the criminal justice system, health and medical experts and industry unions. The committee also examined key government departments, including the Department of Communities and Justice, Corrective Services, Youth Justice, Aboriginal Affairs and the Department of Health.

In addition, the committee spoke with several First Nations families who have devastatingly lost a loved one whilst in custody. The families came forward and provided heartfelt evidence to the committee about the loss of their family member and the impact this continues to have on their families and communities.

The committee now turns to drafting its report and recommendations with an aim to table its report by the end of March 2021.

You can follow the work of the committee on the inquiry webpage here.

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