The Australian Bar Association (ABA) has urged the government to take action against the high imprisonment rate of Indigenous people with mental and cognitive disabilities.
Researchers at UNSW have published the results of their latest investigation, which shows that 27 per cent of 33,791 prisoners in Australia identify as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
They also found that one quarter of the 2,700 prisoners in NSW who had a known mental illness or cognitive disability were Indigenous, despite making up less than three per cent of the state’s overall population.
The Australian Bar Association president, Fiona McLeod SC, said these findings “present another, disturbing aspect of this country’s lamentable record on the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system”.
She continued: “In Aboriginal communities suffering from crippling socio-economic disadvantage, people with mental and cognitive disabilities are simply falling into the criminal justice system. Clearly, existing approaches have failed.”
The Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System (IAMHDCD) Project at UNSW also found that Indigenous people were 2.4 times more likely to be in juvenile custody than non-Indigenous people.
Ms McLeod has repeated the ABA’s call for governments to invest in smarter sentencing, rehabilitation and community justice programs for Indigenous communities.
“The report reveals that we are especially failing Aboriginal women despite the evidence this group have more complex health needs and challenges,” she said. “The impact of our current sentencing habits will be felt across generations if we do not adopt alternative approaches.”
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