‘Disappointing but not surprising’: ALS on Indigenous bail figures
New findings released by the NSW Bureau of Statistics have shown police are more likely to refuse bail for Aboriginal defendants than non-Aboriginal defendants, confirming what the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT says is a systemic problem within NSW Police.
The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) report found among people on remand 25 per cent of adults and 45 per cent of young people are Aboriginal. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 3.4 per cent of the NSW population.
The findings are starkly similar to research carried out by the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) that found Aboriginal young people had high rates of short-term remand. This was as a result of bail being refused by police, then granted by the courts in the first court appearance, ALS said.
“This reflects our concerns of systemic racism within NSW Police meaning Aboriginal people are being locked up simply because they are Aboriginal,” said Sarah Crellin, principal solicitor (crime practice) at the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS).
“These findings are disappointing but not surprising. We welcome the data being out for all to see.
“Given the trauma that Aboriginal people and their families suffer when in prison, and the unacceptably high number of Aboriginal deaths in custody, it should be an urgent priority to reduce the number of Aboriginal people in NSW prisons. Yet the facts show that Aboriginal people are being disproportionately locked up without being sentenced of a crime.”
While the findings are a step in the right direction, now is the time to take action to actually do something about them, Ms Crellin said.
“While knowledge is always a good thing, we need much more than research – we need action,” she said, noting that the ALS is calling for Aboriginality to be considered as a stand-alone provision within the NSW Bail Act, “meaning that police and magistrates would be called upon to consider unique factors pertaining to a person’s Aboriginality before making bail decisions”.
Further, ALS is calling for the introduction of a separate, purpose-built Bail Act for children and young people and is currently working with NSW Police to ensure appropriate bail conditions are imposed on children and young people through a joint project with Just Reinvest NSW and the ALS at Moree and Mount Druitt.
“Once you place a child in jail, they are much more likely to return as an adult. We should be aiming to divert young people away from the criminal justice system,” Ms Crellin concluded.