The father of a young First Nations man, who was in Parklea Correctional Centre on July 12 when 14 inmates broke out of the facility and climbed on to the roof, has spoken out about the racism of the prison system and the terrible conditions for prisoners.
Uncle Raymond Finn, a long-time campaigner for First Nations' rights, said in a statement: “I need to speak up for those young fellas who were protesting yesterday. They were taking brace action to try and highlight the plight of our people who continue to be brutalised by prisons and police.”
Parklea is located in the north-western suburbs of Sydney. It houses remand, minimum and maximum security inmates.
Inmates used their clothes to spell out “BLM” (Black Lives Matter) on the roof and held their fists in the air showing solidarity with victims of police and prison brutality. They also acknowledged that there had been more than 470 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) in 1991.
“We’re the most incarcerated people on the face of the planet,” Finn said. “Here in NSW, we’re more than 25% of people in prison, despite making up only 3% of the population.”
Finn said the private prison system is completely wrong. Private prisons make “profit off the misery of our people and it needs to stop”.
NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge said the prison has a history of “mismanagement and abuse”. He said there had been “multiple reports” of “very aggressive, abusive responses, especially to First Nations inmates” in Parklea.
7News and 9News described the protests as “riots”, claiming the inmates’ actions were drug-motivated.
However, the inmates’ use of BLM demands shows they were delivering a political message against a brutal prison system.
Inmates at Long Bay Jail who protested in June 2020 also made Black Lives Matter symbols with their clothes.
On July 13, Finn was asked why prisoners lit fires in the prison as part of their protest. “We have talked and talked, we need to see action,” was his reply. “We salute their brave stand yesterday saying ‘Black Lives Matter’.”
First Nations activist Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts tweeted solidarity with the protesters, saying: “It started with slavery, and it continues with slavery, child removal and deaths in custody.”
Meanwhile, another First Nations man died in custody on June 8 it has been reported.
Ngemba man Frank Coleman, just 43 years old, died at Sydney’s Long Bay Correctional Complex. He is the ninth First Nations person to die in custody since March: six of those deaths have been in NSW.
Coleman’s family is demanding answers. His daughter Lakota Coleman said the prospect of waiting two or more years for a coronial inquest to examine her father’s death was unacceptable. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, Coleman’s family had not been able to visit him in several months.
Finn said sending First Nations people to jail should be a last resort. “Too many are inside for petty offences,” he said. “They are safer outside, and should be receiving services and opportunities to help get their lives on track.”