New Thinking Needed to Reduce Indigenous Imprisonment Rates
14 April 2016 at 3:42 pm
The NSW Aboriginal Land Council has called on governments to fundamentally rethink the way they work with Aboriginal communities if they are to combat the deepening crisis of rising imprisonment rates for Indigenous people.
The call comes on the eve of the 25th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) chair Roy Ah-See said the billions of dollars governments poured each year into Australia’s prisons had only served to widen the gap for Aboriginal people.
“In the 25 years since the Royal Commission, the number of Aboriginal people caught in this law and order treadmill continues to rise,” Ah-See said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia account for about 2 per cent of the adult population yet make up an alarming 27 per cent of the prisoner population.
“It’s time for policy-makers to concede that the system is fundamentally broken and to work in genuine partnership with Aboriginal people and organisations on community-centred alternatives to prison.
“This includes policies and programs based on justice reinvestment where power is devolved at the local level to invest in education, training, parole support, rehabilitation and community-driven courts.”
Ah-See said local Aboriginal land councils in New South Wales were also ready to be part of the solution to reversing high imprisonment rates.
“The Land Rights system in New South Wales is uniquely placed to play a constructive role in addressing some of the factors that bring Aboriginal people in contact with the justice system,” he said.
“In New South Wales, local Aboriginal land councils are able to claim certain lands as freehold title and many of our local Aboriginal land councils use that land to connect people back to country, to provide training, jobs and get people back on their feet.
“If we are serious about confronting the national shame of rising Aboriginal imprisonment rates, government policies need to be informed by what Aboriginal people experience at the grassroots.
“For too long, too many Aboriginal families have had to deal with the consequences of policy failure through deaths in custody, suicide and ongoing trauma.”
Indigenous leader Pat Dodson told the Canberra Press Club on Wednesday that federal Parliament must act to address the rates of Indigenous incarceration, saying there must be political solutions that can be explored.
Professor Dodson, said the current incarceration rates for Indigenous peoples were “a complete and utter disgrace”.
“Accepting the status quo permits the criminal justice system to continue to suck us up like a vacuum cleaner and deposit us like waste in custodial institutions,” he said.
“I would hope that we are better than that. We must be better than that.”
Dodson, a former head of the Kimberley Development Commission and Commissioner of the 1989 probe into Aboriginal deaths in custody will join the Labor Party in the Senate replacing Joe Bullock who quit in March over the party’s same sex marriage stance.