Hotline to save Indigenous lives in police custody
2 October 2019 at 4:07 pm
A welfare and legal advice hotline for Aboriginal people in police custody has launched following years of advocacy and negotiations in Western Australia, with advocates labelling the service “lifesaving”.
As of Wednesday, police are required to call the 24/7 hotline staffed by the Aboriginal Legal Service Western Australia (ALSWA) whenever an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person is arrested or detained in Western Australia.
The Custody Notification Service (CNS) has been trialled in the state since July and is modeled on the New South Wales service which has been operational for the past 19 years.
The CNS was a key recommendation in both the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the inquest into the death of Yamatji woman Ms Dhu at South Hedland Police Station in 2014.
Dhu, who was jailed for unpaid fines in 2014, died after suffering a critical health decline in a Port Hedland police cell. An inquest heard the CNS could have saved her life.
Her remaining family has spent the past five years advocating for the service to be rolled out in WA.
Dennis Eggington, ALSWA CEO, said he was sure it would make a difference to the lives of Aboriginal people given its track record in other states.
“Since NSW established a CNS 18 years ago, there has been one Indigenous death in custody, which shows that this really is a lifesaving service,” Eggington said.
“It’s an absolute tragedy that over 400 of our people have died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Most of those deaths occurred in Western Australia.”
He said the ALSWA CNS unit had undergone an expert training program in many areas including cultural awareness, relevant legal issues, mental health, disability, suicide prevention, and trauma-informed practice.
The initiative costs $1 million a year and is jointly funded by the federal and state governments, with Commonwealth funding of $2.7 million over three years. The Northern Territory received the same funding.
The Guardian reported that legislation to create a Victorian CNS also came into effect on Tuesday. This leaves Queensland, South Australia, and Tasmania as the only remaining states without the service.