‘Comprehensive action needed’: LCA urges government response to Indigenous incarceration report
The Law Council of Australia is strongly urging the Australian government to take a stand on the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, with little action taken since the release of the Pathways to Justice Report three years ago.
The Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Report was released in 2018, offering what many described as both a shameful and disgraceful look at prison stats.
Among the findings was that although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults comprise 2 per cent of the population, they make up 27 per cent of prisoners nationwide. In NSW specifically, the report noted that as of 30 June 2017, 24 per cent of the NSW prisoner population identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
Three years on, Law Council of Australia (LCA) president Dr Jacoba Brasch QC said it’s time for the Australian government to take action and address the alarming statistics we still see today.
“The Law Council of Australia believes it is time for the Australian Government to take the lead in responding to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples Report,” Dr Brasch said.
“It has been three years since the Report was tabled and still statistics, showing the disproportionate incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, continue to be alarming despite the majority of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people never committing a criminal offence.
“Comprehensive action is needed to avoid repeating past mistakes and instigating future inquiries that investigate the same issues, but to act on the recommendations and conclusions reached.”
To make her point, Dr Brasch referenced the proposed youth justice reforms in the Northern Territory, noting these are both “counter-productive” and “troubling”.
“They include the automatic revocation of bail,” Dr Brasch said.
“This clearly goes against recommendations by the Royal Commission into the Detention and Protection of Children in the Northern Territory bail that a child should be denied bail very rarely, and detention should be a last resort. This Royal Commission cost taxpayers well upwards of $50 million dollars.
“Automatically placing young people into remand, and electronically monitoring them on the basis of a mere allegation they have committed a crime has no basis as a necessary or proportionate response to addressing crime.
“On an average day, 96 per cent of young people in unsentenced detention in the Northern Territory are Indigenous.”
In conclusion, Dr Brasch reiterated that a national approach is urgently needed to implement key recommendations from the ALRC around the provision of more diversion, support and rehabilitation programs before, during and after incarceration.
“While the Law Council welcomes the move toward adopting Closing the Gap justice targets, more action is needed,” she said.
“A Government response to the ALRC report has the potential to offer national leadership and support effective solutions.”
Dr Brasch’s comments follow a similar sentiment expressed by Sarah Crellin, principal solicitor (crime practice) at the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS).
Last week Ms Crellin responded to findings released by a NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) report that found among people on remand 25 per cent of adults and 45 per cent of young people are Aboriginal. Further, Aboriginal young people had high rates of short-term remand, Ms Crellin noted, adding this was as a result of bail being refused by police, then granted by the courts in the first court appearance.
“This reflects our concerns of systemic racism within NSW Police meaning Aboriginal people are being locked up simply because they are Aboriginal,” she noted.
“These findings are disappointing but not surprising. We welcome the data being out for all to see.”