LCA urges action on 'catastrophic' imprisonment rate
The Law Council of Australia has underscored the pressing need for reform to combat the national Indigenous imprisonment rate, after a new report found it has increased by 77 per cent over the past 15 years.
According to the Productivity Commission’s latest Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report, while there has been some improvement in health, economic participation and education rates, the national Indigenous imprisonment rate has increased by 77 per cent over the past 15 years.
The report also found that while the Indigenous juvenile detention rate has slightly decreased, it remains 24 times higher than that of non-Indigenous youth.
LCA president Stuart Clark AM said the “alarmingly high” rates are proof that urgent intervention is needed.
“Current rates of Indigenous imprisonment are nothing shy of a national scandal,” Mr Clark said.
“Three per cent of the general population is Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, yet this group makes up 27 per cent of the prison population. The problem was atrocious enough to shock a nation when it was examined by a royal commission in 1991, and it has grown much, much worse since then.
“We know the corrosive effects of incarceration on individuals serving time, their families and their communities. Unfortunately, imprisonment is now simply part of the Indigenous experience and forms an integral aspect of the cycle of disadvantage.
“The good news is we know there are myriad constructive ways to start driving this rate down.”
Mr Clark urged the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to act accordingly following the results of the new report.
“COAG must adopt ‘reducing Indigenous imprisonment’ as a key item on its ‘Closing the Gap’ agenda, and the Commonwealth, states and territories must establish and report on justice targets,” he said.
“Laws which have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous people should also be reformed.
“Bail and remand laws must be reformed to ensure Indigenous children are not held in detention unnecessarily. We must stop imprisoning people who simply can't pay fines, and mandatory sentencing should be abolished across the board.”
Mr Clark said the report makes the recently announced Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into Indigenous incarceration even more crucial.
“Bringing the issue under the microscope of the ALRC is an important development and very welcome,” Mr Clark said.
“However, there are immediate steps governments can take. The Productivity Commission’s report is an important wake-up call and federal government leadership is necessary to drive a national, intergovernmental response, in consultation with Indigenous leaders, justice sector organisations and legal services.
“The actions we need to take are clear and very achievable. The law council will continue to work with decision-makers to make this change a reality.”