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Open Letter to PM Calls For Action on Indigenous Incarceration


Tuesday, 18th September 2018 at 4:57 pm
Maggie Coggan, Journalist
A coalition of Indigenous leaders, academics and community groups are challenging the government over their silence on an inquiry into incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which was tabled in Parliament six months ago.


Tuesday, 18th September 2018
at 4:57 pm
Maggie Coggan, Journalist


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Open Letter to PM Calls For Action on Indigenous Incarceration
Tuesday, 18th September 2018 at 4:57 pm

A coalition of Indigenous leaders, academics and community groups are challenging the government over their silence on an inquiry into incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which was tabled in Parliament six months ago.

An open letter, signed by groups including the Aboriginal Legal Service, Australian Justice Reinvestment Project, UNICEF, and the Australian Council of Social Service, addressed Prime Minister Scott Morrison, and Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion, raising concerns over government inaction on the issue.  

The letter said it had nearly been six months since the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report, and there was still no formal response from the government, which had negatively affected families and communities.

“More than 5,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, women and children have been in prisons around the country, impacting not only those individuals but their families and communities as well,” the letter said.  

“The Australian Institute of Criminology has since reported that the number of deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody has increased to the highest it has been since 1979-80.”

The report, which was commissioned by the former Attorney-General George Brandis in 2016, contained 35 recommendations, including the establishment of a national justice reinvestment body, supporting justice reinvestment trials around the country, and developing national criminal justice targets.   

It also found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men were 14.7 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were 21.2 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

Chancellor of Canberra University and former Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander social justice commissioner, Professor Tom Calma, said action was “well overdue”, and the federal government had the answers it needed to act.

“Ever since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody over 25 years ago, we have seen numerous inquiries and reports that identify what government needs to do to address this national tragedy,” Calma said.

“Supporting evidence-based approaches in communities like justice reinvestment are vital to create better health and well-being outcomes for our people and to make our communities safe. We should be building communities, not prisons.”

Alistair Ferguson, the executive director of the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project in Burke, said the initiative has enabled the community to make decisions for themselves.\

“It builds our strength and confidence, causes better health and well-being outcomes, and has made all stakeholders more action and outcome focused,” Ferguson said.   

In Burke, the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project has had good results

Labor’s shadow assistant minister for Indigenous affairs, Patrick Dodson, said Labor “supported the call”, and said it was time “for honesty” from the government on how they planned to deal with the “incarceration crisis”.

“The government cannot hide behind inquiry after inquiry – at the expense of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives,” Dodson said.

But Scullion said justice reinvestment as a policy was “one for the states and territories that own, operate and control the justice system”.

He also added the issue of justice targets “were already being discussed”, through the Closing the Gap refresh process.

“Justice targets are being considered in the context of state-based targets,” Scullion said.

“We are also waiting on more state and territory governments to respond to our offer to fund the establishment of a Custody Notification Service, a key recommendation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the ALRC report.”  

The government are yet to respond to the calls for action, however Scullion said on Tuesday morning they would “release a response shortly”.  


Maggie Coggan  |  Journalist  |  @MaggieCoggan

Maggie Coggan is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


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