National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS) presented this report to the United Nations Subcommittee Prevention of Torture informed by experience and knowledge of the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in places of detention around Australia. Due to over-policing, systemic racism, intergenerational trauma and forced family separation, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are overrepresented in the national prison population.

Key Findings:

  • As of January 2020, there have been 424 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people dying in police custody or while imprisoned since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its recommendations.
  • Children and young people, particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are subject to excessive strip searching when imprisoned. In the state of New South Wales, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people accounted for 22 percent of all recorded strip searches in custody. A report found that there are imprecise legal thresholds to enable strip searches in New South Wales and that unlawful strip searches are potentially widespread.
  • The Royal Commission found that imprisoned children and young people in the Northern Territory were denied access to basic needs like food, water and the use of toilets. In some cases, children were bribed to carry out degrading and humiliating acts or to commit acts of violence on each other. One of the Royal Commission’s recommendations was to close the Don Dale facility immediately due to its repeated breaches of the human rights of children and young people. The centre remains open, and in fact has since been expanded.
  • Adult watch houses in the state of Queensland are just bare concrete pens. They are designed to only hold adults that are in an acute or dangerous state and only for up to 48 hours. However, some children are imprisoned in these pens for weeks. 
  • Worryingly, solitary confinement is common in all Australian jurisdictions. However, because solitary confinement across Australia may be called isolation, segregation, seclusion or separation, there is no consistency in the governing legislation that regulates or prohibits solitary confinement.


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