Community Legal Centres NSW has welcomed the Australian Law Reform Commission’s inquiry into the rates of Indigenous incarceration.
CLCNSW said in a statement that it welcomed the ALRC’s discussion paper, Incarceration Rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples, released on 17 July.
The inquiry is focused on the laws and legal frameworks that contribute to the incarceration rates of Indigenous people and inform decisions to hold or keep them in custody, according the ALRC.
“Recommendations from the Australian Law Reform Commission historically have a high take-up rate, over 80 per cent, making this inquiry a real potential stepping stone to reducing the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in this country,” Community Legal Centres NSW chair, Dr Linda Tucker, said.
“Aboriginal women are the fastest-growing group in NSW prisons. They represent around 2.5 per cent of the NSW population, yet 29.4 per cent of women in prison. The imprisonment of Aboriginal women has significant impact on the number of children in out-of-home care, on homelessness levels, and on the criminal justice system.”
Dr Tucker said alternatives to arrest and imprisonment need to be considered, as well as housing and disability support.
“Community Legal Centres NSW and our member organisations will be advocating for law reform in a number of crucial areas. This includes the need for alternative pathways to imprisonment, moving away from mandatory sentencing, and an end to incarcerating people for not paying fines,” she said.
“The relationship between police and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is also crucial in this area. This means police considering alternatives to arrest, engaging in proactive policing and taking a more flexible approach to bail conditions.
“At the same time, we need to provide safe and stable housing for people trying to reintegrate into the community, support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with cognitive disabilities, and a whole of government effort to reduce systemic racism.
“This inquiry will take into account decades of reports, inquiries and actions plans in this area, with a view to providing a series of recommendations that can and will be taken up by the government.”
The announcement of the inquiry came as community organisation Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT (ALS) called on the NSW government to place Indigenous offenders on community-based sentencing orders instead of jailing them for lower-level criminal conducts, such as minor assaults, stalking and breaching AVOs.
“The overrepresentation of Aboriginal people behind bars is disgraceful and just proves that the state’s current justice system is adversely impacting Aboriginal people before the courts,” said ALS chairman Bunja Smith.
“Clearly, one meaningful way of addressing this is by a greater use of community-based sentencing options, such as Intensive Correction Orders and other rehabilitation programs that keep Aboriginal people in the community rather than being sent to prison.”
Submissions to the ALRC’s inquiry are due on 4 September 2017.