On Sunday 11 September 2022, Clinton Austin, a 38-year-old Gunditjmara and Wiradjuri man, passed away in custody at Loddon Prison in Victoria. Clinton’s death is currently being investigated by the Coroner’s Court of Victoria.
Clinton was a father and a well-known artist. He had a big and kind heart and was close to his family, including his siblings, twin brother, mother and son, who are all devastated by his sudden death. Clinton had a strong connection to his Aboriginal culture which he expressed through his art, and through sharing knowledge with his family.
Clinton is the second Aboriginal man to have died in custody in Victoria in the last month and the third Aboriginal person to have died in Victoria’s prisons in less than 12 months. There have been over 500 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The recommendations of the Royal Commission still have not been implemented and Aboriginal people continue to die in custody.
The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s Wirraway Team is assisting Clinton’s family in the coronial process.
Quotes attributable to the family of Clinton Austin
“Clinton was an artist, father, brother and son who had a big heart and a kind heart. People may know Clinton through his artwork, which he sold through the TORCH program. Clinton was a beautiful artist. Clinton was also close to and touched many people who were with him in prison and shared his artistic skills with them.”
“Clinton had a strong connection to his Aboriginal culture. Our family has our connection to culture because of Clinton. Clinton devoted his life to learning about our culture and knowing where we came from. He taught all of us. There were things he knew about our family and culture that none of us knew. Without him, we would never have had that connection.”
“Clinton was meant to be getting out of prison. He had his heart set on being an Aboriginal art teacher. His heart was for his son, and for his art. He wanted to get out of prison and live right and do the right thing. Now he can’t do any of that.”
“We can’t believe Clinton is dead. We don’t know how we will face the next days.”
“COVID has had a huge impact on the Aboriginal community. The strain of COVID has been tenfold on Aboriginal people in prison. Due to COVID, Clinton faced lockdowns, delays in the hearing of his parole, and wasn’t able to see his family face to face. Clinton shouldn’t have been held in prison in those conditions. Clinton was eligible for parole last year. Why wasn’t he released when he was meant to be?”
“We want answers and a thorough investigation into how Clinton died. We don’t want anyone to be able to cover up any details. We want his death to be investigated so that people stop dying in prisons. We don’t want other families to have to go through what we are now going through.”
“Clinton was let down by the police and justice system.”
Quotes Attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of VALS
“On behalf of VALS, we send our support and condolences to the family and loved ones of Clinton Austin. Clinton should be alive today sharing in culture and with family and community.”
“We hope that the Coroner’s Court of Victoria will thoroughly investigate Clinton’s death and will be respectful towards and prioritise the voices of Clinton’s family throughout the coronial investigation process.”
“While we don’t yet know the circumstances of Clinton’s death, VALS has serious concerns about the quality of healthcare provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons in Victoria. We call on the State Government to urgently address this issue and provide healthcare in prison that is equivalent to that in the community and that is culturally safe.”
“VALS also has serious concerns about the impact of COVID on people in prison in Victoria. COVID has meant constant lockdowns, delays in parole, and the inability of our clients to see their loved ones face to face.”
“We understand that Clinton was eligible for parole last year. Victoria’s parole system is failing Aboriginal people and needs urgent reform.”
“Clinton is the third Aboriginal person to die in custody in Victoria in less than 12 months. There is a crisis of deaths in custody in Victoria and the State Government need to take urgent action to address this crisis. If the Victorian Government do nothing, it will undermine Treaty and Yoorrook, and waste the generational opportunity and hope that they represent.”