find the latest legal job
Corporate and Commercial Partner
Category: Corporate and Commercial Law | Location: Adelaide SA 5000
· Adelaide CBD · Join a leading Adelaide commercial law firm
View details
Freelance Project Finance Lawyers
Category: Other | Location: All Australia
· Vario are looking for freelance lawyers with experience in project finance ideally within the renewable energy sector
View details
Vario Freelance Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Australia
· We are looking for lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Freelance Construction Lawyers
Category: Construction Law | Location: All Melbourne VIC
· We are looking for construction lawyers who appreciate the endless possibilities that a freelance career can offer.
View details
Banking Associate - 1-6PQE - Allen & Overy
Category: Banking and Finance Law | Location: United Kingdom
· Banking Associate - 1-6 PQE - Allen & Overy
View details
How to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rates

How to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rates


Addressing the underlying causes of crime is the best way to prevent Indigenous Australians being put behind bars, according to a leading human rights advocate.

“There is the clearest of evidence that people who come into the prison system are people who experience multiple and complex forms of social and economic disadvantage,” said Ben Schokman (pictured), director of international advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) .

“They are people who have lower education levels, low employment rates, inadequate housing – people with disability or experiencing mental illness,” Mr Schokman said.

“So it is no accident that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, who are disadvantaged on every single social and economic indicator, are also so significantly over-represented in the criminal justice system.”

Mr Schokman spoke to Lawyers Weekly ahead of an event, Breaking the cycle of Aboriginal over-imprisonment, to be hosted at King & Wood Mallesons’ Melbourne office on 18 May.

This event is part of the National Justice Coalition’s Change The Record campaign, launched last week, which aims to reduce the numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples within Australian prison populations.

The campaign, which has the support of the Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association, puts forward 12 key policy solutions to address crime by focusing on the issues of poverty and disadvantage.

“The solutions are based on data and evidence of what works, rather than ill-conceived law and order campaigns continually run by politicians,” Mr Schokman said.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent only 3 per cent of the total population, yet more than 28 per cent of Australia’s prison population.

Indigenous men are twice as likely to be in prison than in university, while Indigenous women are 34 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of domestic violence than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

“It is clear that current approaches to addressing these problems are just not working,” Mr Schokman said.

Build communities not prisons

At $100,000 per person per year, prison sentences are an expensive way to punish individuals and, at the same time, provide little in the way of rehabilitation and support that could help address the root causes of violent and unlawful behaviour.  

“Prison is actually a very blunt and extremely costly response to reduce crime, which takes place after the damage is done,” Mr Schokman said. “There needs to be much more done to prevent crime in the first place. Such measures will not only be much more effective, but will also save millions of dollars wasted on correctional spending.”

To take just two examples, people who end up in the child protection program or are victims of domestic violence are significantly more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system later in life, he said.

The countries that are most successful in reducing crime recognise that getting tangled up in the criminal justice system represents a failure of society rather than a personal failing, he added.

“[People in prison] are people for whom the educations system did not work, the health system has not been appropriate and so prisons are seen as places where much more holistic and personalised support can be provided.”

In step with this line of thought, the first policy position in the Change the Record plan is to recognise that “every dollar spent on prisons is one less dollar available to invest in … education, health, disability, housing, employment and other programs”.

Localise the problem

Mr Schokman argues that the best way to solve a community problem such as crime is to ask communities themselves.

“Government responses must focus on … empowering communities to take ownership and control over identifying solutions,” he said.

Pilot programs around Australia are putting this into action. For instance, a program aimed at involving the community is under way in Bourke, which had the highest rate of assault, break-ins and car thefts in NSW in 2013.

There are also successful initiatives that can help individuals during their interactions with the criminal justice system.

The Koori Courts in Victoria, for example, take a much more therapeutic approach to crime and allow the participation of the Aboriginal (Koori) community in the court process.

Of course, the simplest way of reducing the number of Indigenous people in prison is to reconsider prison as a sentencing option for minor crimes.

“In many instances, sending a person to prison is unnecessary and can contribute to further involvement in the criminal justice system,” the Change the Record policy states.

“We need to rethink the costly practice of keeping people behind bars and consider more effective community options.”

Like this story? Read more:

Book commemorates diamond milestone for WA law society

QLS condemns actions of disgraced lawyer as ‘stain on the profession’

NSW proposes big justice reforms to target risk of reoffending

How to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rates
lawyersweekly logo
Promoted content
Recommended by Spike Native Network
more from lawyers weekly
Jan 23 2018
Disrupting traditional archiving and storage methods
Promoted by Fileman TRENDS COME and go but technology and its disruption to the legal landscape h...
Scales of Justice
Jan 23 2018
WA to close ‘legal loophole’ on gender reassignment laws
Laws in Western Australia will soon change to permit married people to undergo gender reassignment s...
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
Jan 22 2018
Lawyers take to Twitter to share career stories
The #mypathtolaw hashtag has been embraced by legal eagles to swap stories with the Twitter communit...
Allens managing partner Richard Spurio, image courtesy Allens' website
Jun 21 2017
Promo season at Allens
A group of lawyers at Allens have received promotions across its PNG and Australian offices. ...
May 11 2017
Partner exits for in-house role
A Victorian lawyer has left the partnership of a national firm to start a new gig with state governm...
Esteban Gomez
May 11 2017
National firm recruits ‘major asset’
A national law firm has announced it has appointed a new corporate partner who brings over 15 years'...
Nicole Rich
May 16 2017
Access to justice for young transgender Australians
Reform is looming for the process that young transgender Australians and their families must current...
Geoff Roberson
May 11 2017
The lighter side of the law: when law and comedy collide
On the face of it, there doesn’t seem to be much that is amusing about the law, writes Geoff Rober...
May 10 2017
Advocate’s immunity – without fear or without favour but not both
On 29 March 2017, the High Court handed down its decision in David Kendirjian v Eugene Lepore & ...