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AG links alcohol with Aboriginal gaol rates

AG links alcohol with Aboriginal gaol rates

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has declared alcohol is a major contributor to the Indigenous rate of incarceration. Speaking to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the Royal…

Attorney-General Robert McClelland has declared alcohol is a major contributor to the Indigenous rate of incarceration.

Speaking to mark the 20th anniversary of the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, McClelland said that while the number of Aboriginals who have died in custody has reduced over the past two decades, Indigenous Australians remain highly over-represented in the criminal justice system.

"We know that one of the main factors contributing to this is alcohol abuse," McClelland said. "The National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee identified in 2009 that alcohol could be a factor in up to 90 per cent of all Indigenous contacts with the justice system."

Indigenous Affairs minister Jenny Macklin said the Government had sought to put a "strong emphasis" on reducing alcohol supply and strengthening rehabilitation services in Aboriginal communities to reduce Indigenous incarceration rates.

The Royal Commission made a total of 339 recommendations relating to procedures for persons in custody and the need for liaising with Aboriginal groups in order to reduce the rate of incarceration.

Earlier this week, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda told Lawyers Weekly that the high levels of Aboriginal incarceration meant that the Royal Commission had failed Aboriginal people.

He advocated an overhaul of state and federal government policy relevant to rehabilitation programs alongside the adoption of a program called "justice reinvestment".

Gooda said this program would divert a portion of public funds that would have been spent on the cost of imprisonment into the community where the offender comes from to assist with local programs and infrastructure.

"This program talks about prison being the last resort rather than the first," said Gooda. "In Australia, we are currently building new gaols in northern Queensland and in the Northern Territory that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars, in both the capital costs and the operating costs.

"Is that money better invested in community initiatives that are specifically aimed at stopping offending behaviour?"

The Commission was announced by Prime Minister Bob Hawke in 1987. It made a total of 339 recommendations.

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