Govt Sets Up Inquiry Into Incarceration Rate of Indigenous Australians
27 October 2016 at 1:16 pm
The federal government has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) to inquire into what has been described as “the catastrophic” levels of Indigenous incarceration in Australia.
The Turnbull government wants the ALRC to examine the factors leading to the over representation of Indigenous Australians in the prison system, and consider what reforms to the law could ameliorate this national tragedy.
Attorney General George Brandis said it had been 25 years since the final report of the landmark Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, but Indigenous Australians were still overrepresented in Australia’s prisons.
“In 1991, Indigenous Australians made up 14 per cent of our nation’s prison population; by 2015, this had increased to 27 per cent,” Brandis said.
“Other worrying statistics include the fact that Indigenous children and teenagers are 24 times more likely to be incarcerated than their non-Indigenous peers, while Indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated.
“The ALRC’s inquiry is a critical step for breaking through these disturbing trends.The terms of reference will be subject to consultation, particularly with Indigenous Australians, state and territory governments who have primary responsibility for our criminal justice frameworks, as well as the broader legal profession.”
Brandis said the government had committed $256 million in 2016/17 through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for activities to address the drivers and improve community safety.
The Law Council of Australia said it had thrown its support behind the government’s decision to inquire into the catastrophic levels of Indigenous incarceration in Australia.
Law Council of Australia president Stuart Clark AM said the government’s decision to refer Indigenous incarceration to the ALRC was timely and important.
“For far too long Australia has failed to address Indigenous incarceration with sufficient urgency,” Clark said.
“As a result we have seen Indigenous imprisonment rates skyrocket. Twenty-five years ago Indigenous peoples were being imprisoned at seven times the rate of the broader population, today it’s 14 times. This is nothing short of a national catastrophe.
“Indigenous people represent just 2.5 per cent of the population, but 27 per cent of the prison population. Indigenous children represent 50 per cent of those in juvenile detention.”
In November 2015 the Law Council brought together leading Indigenous thinkers and Australian jurists for the Indigenous Imprisonment Symposium, which identified a range of reform measures including justice targets, better data collation, and the urgent reform of laws with a disproportionate effect on Indigenous people.
“One of the clear findings of the symposium was that until governments commit to evidence-based measures Indigenous incarceration will continue to grow,” Clark said.
“Bringing the issue under the microscope of the ALRC is a significant development and thoroughly welcome.
“The Law Council will be offering its suggestions to assist the development of the terms of reference to the ALRC’s inquiry. This issue will remain an ongoing priority for the Law Council in 2017 and beyond.”