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Legal bodies call for action on Indigenous incarceration

The Law Council of Australia and Law Society of South Australia have both urged state governments to take action to reduce the rate of Indigenous imprisonment.

The LCA called for state governments to follow the example recently set by the Northern Territory and introduce targets for dramatically reducing the percentage of Indigenous prisoners.

Earlier this week, the Northern Territory announced a target to halve the rate of Indigenous imprisonment by 2030, after the ACT set a comparable target in 2015.

Law Council president Stuart Clark urged the Council of Australian governments not to ignore what he called a “national crisis”.

According to figures provided by the LCA, Indigenous people represent 2.5 per cent of the Australian population but 27 per cent of prisoners and 50 per cent of juvenile detainees.

“Justice targets and an intergovernmental strategy on imprisonment and community violence must be on the agenda at the next COAG meeting,” Mr Clark said.

“The ACT and Northern Territory governments are to be commended for having the foresight to adopt these measures,” he added.

“There is now every reason for the states to follow suit and for the Federal Government to show some leadership on this issue through COAG.”

While he praised a new initiative in Western Australia creating a free hotline for Indigenous prisoners, he warned Indigenous deaths in custody would not be reduced until disproportionate imprisonment was addressed.

Meanwhile, the Law Society of South Australia – in conjunction with the Australian Medical Association – pushed for state and federal governments to invest in “justice reinvestment programs” to address the issue.

These community-based programs focus on early intervention and crime prevention.

“They target the reasons for criminality and are effective in reducing re-offending and giving people options for a law-abiding life,” SA Law Society president David Caruso said.

“Our Aboriginal communities need and deserve better and smarter approaches to getting people out of the criminal justice system and prisons. We need evidence-based solutions that have rehabilitation as their aim.”

According to Mr Caruso, the South Australian government has been investigating the implementation of such programs, but has not yet committed funding.

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