Four Corners - Death by Neglect
Edward Russell's story is a compelling indictment of Australia's failure to care for its most vulnerable citizens. For most of his 25 years, he found only the gaps in the safety net.
The coroner who investigated his death concluded: "...He was not a victim of the system because there was no system there to accommodate someone with Eddie’s problems." Eight years after the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody delivered its 339 recommendations, Edward John Russell committed suicide while alone in a prison cell. His case alone casts doubt on how far Australia has progressed since the Royal Commission reported in 1991.
The royal commission hoped to stop Aborigines like Russell dying in custody. It urged far-reaching reform - not only of prison and police cells but also of the machinery that jailed Aborigines at a disproportionate rate. Instead Russell became one of 115 Aborigines who died in custody in the decade after it reported. In the previous decade the royal commission investigated 110 deaths.
The manner of Russell's death provokes questions about whether authorities have ignored many of the commission's recommendations. The story of Russell's life – his intellectual handicap, his bashing by police, his account of being sexually abused, his violent sex crimes and prison merry-go-round – is one of broken trust.
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