Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration report sets stark challenge

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration report sets stark challenge

Wednesday, 28 March 2018

A new report into the distressing and disproportionate rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians sets governments a stark challenge which they must meet.

We welcome the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) report Pathways to Justice and its 35 recommendations.

'The ALRC recognises that the high rates of incarceration result from complex problems, but importantly, it also recognises that those problems can be solved,' Victoria Legal Aid Associate Director of Aboriginal Services, Meena Singh said.

We strongly support the report’s emphasis on working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to improve local support services, community-based sentencing options and harm reduction programs.

'The report details the vital importance of courts being required to understand not only a person’s individual Aboriginality, but also the unique and systemic background factors that have an impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians,' Ms Singh said.

'It also adopts our recommendation to replicate, across the country, the Victorian legislation which requires Aboriginality to be specifically considered in bail decisions.'

But Ms Singh said such legislation does not exist in a vacuum, and extensive cultural awareness education for judicial officers and police is also essential.

We also welcome the recommendations to establish specialist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sentencing courts, with comprehensive and culturally appropriate services, and the repeal of mandatory sentences that have a disproportionate impact on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

The report puts a strong emphasis on the principle of justice reinvestment, where money is diverted from the criminal justice system into local, community-led support services that address the causes of offending.

'We recommended a justice reinvestment model be considered to deal with unpaid fines and infringements, but we absolutely welcome the system-wide approach outlined in the report,' Ms Singh said.

The report acknowledges that fine defaults should not lead to imprisonment and makes several sensible recommendations to address the circumstances which lead to the shocking death in custody of Ms Dhu in Western Australia.

The ALRC report shows that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 21.2 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous women. The figure is 14.7 times higher for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men than non-Indigenous men.

'To be effective, these recommendations for change must be accompanied by increased resources for Aboriginal legal services, as well as legal aid commissions more broadly,' Ms Singh said.

'We are working hard to provide culturally appropriate, supportive and inclusive services to respond to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Victorians.'

Media enquiries 

For media enquiries please contact Naomi Woodley on 0409 281 304 or email Naomi.Woodley@vla.vic.gov.au

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