THE tragic death of an Aboriginal man in custody at Junee has shown the plight of Indigenous Australians in the justice system has not changed in three decades, according to a heartbroken father.
Jonathon Hogan died by suicide in the Junee Correctional Centre in February 2018.
The 23-year-old was an Aboriginal man of the Wiradjuri, Ngiyampaa and Murrawarri people. His father, Matthew Hogan, described him as "a fun-loving kid, laughing all the time" who loved motorbikes and his family.
"He was my best mate and losing my son - not a day goes by that I don't think of him," Mr Hogan said.
Since his son's death in custody, Mr Hogan has fought for answers. Jonathon's case made it to the NSW Coroners Court where its findings found Junee Correctional Centre had failed to provide adequate mental health services prior to his death.
There were broader questions also raised on the general level of mental health care for inmates within the prison system.
The inquest into Jonathon's death showed that many concerns raised during the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 30 years ago, remain unresolved today.
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And now in the wake of the latest police brutality in the United States and video footage showing an Aboriginal teenager being kicked to the ground by a NSW policeman, Mr Hogan said people need to open their eyes to the mistreatment of minority groups by the justice system.
It makes him feel "sick and gutted" to see First Nations people and other minorities still fighting for human rights, he said.
Having been subjected to racism his entire life and now knowing how it feels to lose a child, Mr Hogan said Aboriginal deaths in custody has been "swept under the carpet" for too long.
"This is not just about Jonathon, this is about other people too," he said.
"I am not trying to save one life, I am trying to save as many as I can before the day I pass away.
"Everyone should be treated the same way instead of one law for one person and another for somebody of a different culture," he said.
Everyone should be treated the same way instead of one law for one person and another for somebody of a different culture.Matthew Hogan
Deputy State Coroner Magistrate Harriet Grahame described Jonathon's death as "not an isolated tragedy caused simply by the particular acts or omissions of any individual". His death is properly understood in its context of social injustice and dispossession, she said.
Magistrate Grahame said the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody was hardly a recently discovered phenomenon and dated back three decades.
The Bureau of Crimes Statistics and Research reports 25 per cent of the prison population in NSW identified as Indigenous as of March 2019.
During the inquest, JuneeCorrectional Centre also confirmed that its Indigenous population sat at about 30 per cent of its total inmate population.
"Almost 30 years after the RCIADIC, we have failed to appropriately reduce the shockingly disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous people or to properly grapple with the underlying factors," Magistrate Grahame said.
She said it was also relevant that not only are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over-represented within the prison system, their rate of suicide attempts over a lifetime are significantly higher than those in the non-Aboriginal population.
A significantly greater proportion of Aboriginal inmates, 26.9 per cent, compared to non-Aboriginal, 18.7 per cent, attempt suicide during their lifetime.
Magistrate Grahame said it was clear indigenous prisoners were at greater risk of suicide than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
"Jonathon's personal risk was even higher. He had been diagnosed with schizophrenia and had reported episodes of psychosis characterised by auditory hallucinations," she said.
Magistrate Grahame said there were a number of concerns about the overall care and treatment provided to Jonathon right from the point of his first admission to Junee Correctional Centre in August 2017.
She questioned why his care was not escalated from the start and why it took three weeks to commence anti-psychotic medication and longer to be seen by a psychiatrist or psychiatric registrar.
Magistrate Grahame found Jonathon was mentally ill at the time of his suicide, which was attributable to being held in custody with inadequate mental health care in the preceding months.
It was recommended the GEO Group, which operates Junee Correctional Centre, review its practice and procedures at the intake stage to ensure inmates with known diagnoses for serious mental illnesses are seen by a suitably qualified mental health clinician in a timely manner.
They were also asked to examine the current ratio of mental health treating staff to inmates requiring mental health reviews and treatment, and whether the staffing ratios and resources are sufficient.
The GEO Group spokesperson said they regret the death of Jonathon and acknowledge the findings of the magistrate.
They said the findings will be carefully considered and the Junee Correctional Centre has already actioned a number of the recommendations detailed in the report.
This includes allowing for the appointment of Aboriginal health staff.