One of Australia’s legal bodies has highlighted the lack of co-ordinated national response measures being put in place to reduce the “shameful disproportion” in incarceration rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and children.
NSW Law Society president Doug Humphreys has flagged that Australia has failed to establish ‘Closing the Gap’ justice targets, resulting in a “lack [of] co-ordinated national response to the most pressing problem facing our criminal justice system – the shocking imprisonment rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders”.
Mr Humphreys has urged both his own state government and the federal government to take urgent action to close the gap by setting key justice targets, which aim to reduce the “shameful disproportion” in incarceration rates of the Indigenous community.
“We have lost another opportunity in this year’s Closing the Gap report,” Mr Humphreys said.
“However, we hope the Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into Indigenous incarceration will provide the necessary impetus for law reform to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders communities.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders families need community-based services that understand their needs.
“Of great concern is that legal services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are struggling to keep up with the criminal case loads and demand for care and protection assistance.
“Organisations must be equipped with the funding, training and resources to deliver services their communities need.”
Mr Humphreys’ comments come after research from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders make up 24 per cent of adults in custody in NSW, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 43.2 per cent of the total children in custody in NSW.
In addition, the research found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders accounted for just under 27.5 per cent of the total Australian prisoner population and that the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders prisoners rose 7 per cent between June 30, 2016 and June 30, 2017.
Mr Humphreys explained that more “culturally appropriate early intervention and prevention programs could help to promote family stability along with more community-based sentencing options in the bush where they were needed most”.
“Funding services for people with disabilities and mental illnesses, drug and alcohol rehabilitation programs and support for people facing family violence makes better longer-term financial sense for the overall Australian community than spending more money on prison beds,” he said.
“We should be spending limited funds on the root causes of the problems that lead to incarceration rather than treating the symptoms by putting more people in goals.”