News Aboriginal Legal Service calls for more transparency after more deaths in custody

Aboriginal Legal Service calls for more transparency after more deaths in custody

Family of Sherry Tilberoo outside the Brisbane Watch House in September during a vigil to mourn her death in police custody. Photo: AAP
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The Aboriginal Legal Service is calling for more transparency after revelations that two Indigenous people died in custody in NSW in the past week.

The deaths only came to light when a bureaucrat was questioned in a parliamentary hearing.

An Indigenous man in his mid-30s died last Tuesday at Long Bay Hospital, which treats NSW prisoners.

Authorities believe his death was “natural” and that he had “multiple” medical issues.

“It was identified by Health and by our staff supervising him when he actually was unresponsive and then obviously support was immediately provided,” Corrective Services NSW Commissioner Peter Severin told a Budget Estimates session on Tuesday.

An Indigenous woman in her mid-50s died in her cell at Silverwater Women’s Prison three days later.

Mr Severin said it’s believed she took her own life.

Both deaths will be referred to the coroner.

The NSW government did not notify the public or the media of the deaths, with the latter only revealed during questioning by Greens MP David Shoebridge at a budget estimates hearing.

The government does not publicise deaths in custody, Mr Severin said.

It is “not appropriate” to advise the public of deaths without any detail and “cause a lot of anger, a lot of angst and a lot of grief”.

“We won’t put public statements out,” he said. “That is not in any way to suggest that we are not 100 per cent accountable.”

Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, called for greater transparency and “real accountability”.

“The NSW government has an obligation to let people know things that are in the public interest, and this includes when there has been a death in their care,” Ms Warner said in a statement.

She suggested corrective services and police could release basic details like the date and location of the death and the person’s age, gender and Aboriginality.

The government does inform the Aboriginal Legal Service and Department of Aboriginal Affairs of Indigenous deaths in custody, Mr Severin said.

Mr Shoebridge criticised the failure to notify the public.

“Two First Nations deaths in a single week is devastating and the government’s new policy of secrecy only adds to the growing concern about First Nations deaths in custody,” he said in a statement.

“The government’s response to the Black Lives Matter movement has not been to address deaths in custody but to hide them from public scrutiny.”