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Community Groups Call For Action on Indigenous Incarceration Rates


Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 3:30 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist
Indigenous community groups have called on the Australian government to follow the “clear roadmap for change” presented by a new government-commissioned report, which examined the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.


Wednesday, 28th March 2018
at 3:30 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist


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Community Groups Call For Action on Indigenous Incarceration Rates
Wednesday, 28th March 2018 at 3:30 pm

Indigenous community groups have called on the Australian government to follow the “clear roadmap for change” presented by a new government-commissioned report, which examined the disproportionate rate of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The federal government asked the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) in October 2016 to explore how the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons could be alleviated.

The final report was tabled in Parliament on Wednesday, containing 35 recommendations.

These included developing national criminal justice targets to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates, the creation of an independent justice reinvestment body to redirect criminal justice system resources to community-led initiatives, and the establishment of a national inquiry into child protection laws affecting Indigenous children.

The report noted that Indigenous men were 14.7 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous men, while Indigenous women were 21.2 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women.

“Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults make up around 2 per cent of the national population, they constitute 27 per cent of the national prison population,” the report said.

“In 2016, around 20 in every 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were incarcerated.

“Over-representation is both a persistent and growing problem Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates increased 41 per cent between 2006 and 2016, and the gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and non-Indigenous imprisonment rates over that decade widened.”

Judge Matthew Myers AM, the commissioner in charge of the inquiry, said while the issues outlined in the report were complex, they were able to be solved.

“Law reform is an important part of that solution. Reduced incarceration, and greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in contact with the criminal justice system, will improve health, social and economic outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and lead to a safer society for all,” Myers said.

Indigenous community groups have welcomed the report, and called on the government to heed the ALRC recommendations.

Damian Griffis, the co-chair of Change the Record – a coalition of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights, legal and community organisations – said the report provided “a clear roadmap for change”.

“The Law Reform Commission has built on the evidence and expertise of past inquiries. This report provides an evidence-based guide governments can follow to turn the tide,” Griffis said.

“They must act now and reform the aspects of criminal justice systems that lead to this inequality. This is an urgent human rights issue. It’s time for change.”

Griffis’ fellow co-chair Antoinette Braybrook added: “It’s time for the federal government to commit to action and to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to implement the changes the ALRC has recommended.

“We need to shift investment from expensive, ineffective prisons, into community controlled organisations that will address the underlying drivers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people going into prison.”

Griffis – who is also CEO of First Peoples Disability Network Australia – said action was needed to protect Indigenous people with disability in the criminal justice system.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are more likely to end up in the justice system because of a lack of understanding of disability in the criminal justice system and absence of appropriate community based support,” he said.

“The report has confirmed that governments need to do much more to provide appropriate community based support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability in order to avoid the criminalisation of disability.”

Just Reinvest NSW lauded the ALRC for their justice reinvestment approach to the issue, which the report labelled an “appropriate and more effective [alternative] to imprisonment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people”.

Chair Sarah Hopkins said: “Investing in prisons is investing in failure – focusing on locking people up doesn’t make sense economically or socially. Justice reinvestment projects are community-led, place-based and data-driven – this should be a critical part of policy and law reform.

“The answer to the problem of too many people in contact with the justice system won’t be found inside the justice system. We solve this by getting in front of the problem, focusing on the local solutions that strengthen communities and keep people from offending in the first place.

“It costs over $100,000 to lock someone up for a year. Analysis from the UK suggests that for every dollar invested in alternatives to incarceration, $14 worth of social value was produced for women, children, victims and society as a whole.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner June Oscar AO, said the Australian Human Rights Commission supported the findings of the report.

Oscar backed calls for an independent justice reinvestment body to be established to reduce the interaction between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the criminal justice system.

“The Australian Human Rights Commission has long supported a justice reinvestment approach that addresses the social determinants of health and invests in the expertise provided by Indigenous organisations,” Oscar said.

“[The] commission wholeheartedly supports the report’s calls for a national inquiry into child protection laws and processes affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. We must embrace strategies aimed at early intervention and family supports within the child welfare and justice spaces.

“I urge all governments to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their organisations in realising the report’s recommendations, particularly in developing justice targets, within the federal government’s Closing the Gap Refresh process.”

A number of legal bodies have also urged the government to implement recommendations from the report.

Law Council president, Morry Bailes, said the Indigenous incarceration rates were a “national crisis” requiring immediate action.

“It has been 27 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were imprisoned at seven times the rate of the general population, yet many of its 339 recommendations remain unimplemented,” Bailes said.

“The ALRC report must not go the way of the past Royal Commission report where most of the recommendations are still gathering dust. The ALRC’s recommendations offer a renewed roadmap to end disproportionate numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in incarceration.

“The proposed justice reinvestment strategies are vital to communities. For decades, research has shown that top-down approaches to social issues do not work and we know top-down approaches do not reduce recidivism, they perpetuate and often drive it.”

Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) CEO Lesley Turner said “an integrated response to crime, health and social services” was needed to reduce the underlying causes of offending.

“This includes implementing more culturally-appropriate early intervention and prevention programs that address the complex legal and non-legal issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people including housing, disability, mental health, drug and alcohol rehabilitation and family violence,” Turner said.

The ALRC report drew its findings from 149 national consultations and more than 120 submissions.

Myers thanked all those who participated in the inquiry.

“It has been humbling to meet with the community organisations and individuals who work tirelessly to achieve justice and better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” he said.

“It is critical we acknowledge that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples understand the problems leading to their over-incarceration.

“Facilitating Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to develop and deliver appropriate strategies, initiatives, and programs are a feature of the ALRC recommendations.”


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


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