16 December 2014 | General Interest
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners accounted for 27 per cent of the total Australian prisoner population, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) figures released on 11 December.
The ABS figures also reveal the total number of prisoners in Australia reached a ten-year high of 33,791 at 30 June 2014 and show the highest annual increase in national prisoner numbers since 2004.
According to the ABS, at 30 June 2014:
- There were 9,264 prisoners in Australian prisons who identified as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, which was a 10% increase (834 prisoners) from 30 June 2013 (8,430 prisoners). This is the highest number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners since 2004.
- The proportion of prisoners identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander varied from 8% in Victoria (474 prisoners) to 86% in the Northern Territory (1,279 prisoners).
- The most common offence/charge for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners were in custody was acts intended to cause injury (35% or 3,220 prisoners) followed by unlawful entry with intent (15% or 1,415 prisoners).
Responding to the figures, the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) said the high imprisonment rates were not making communities safer.
“We know the terrible effect of incarceration on our communities and we must break the cycle,” said NAAJA CEO Priscilla Collins.
“These figures show that the cycle is not only continuing but the situation is far worse than it was ten years ago.
“Building more prisons and locking up more of our people is not the answer. We need to invest in strategies that tackle the root causes of criminal behaviour head-on.
“Punitive bail laws, strict mandatory sentencing regimes and the recent introduction of paperless arrests only make the problem worse.”
NAAJA has joined SNAICC and other leading Indigenous organisations, including NATSILS and National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, calling on governments to implement the recommendations in 2014 Social Justice Report from the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner.
NATSILS Chairperson Shane Duffy said the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system was now at epidemic levels.
“Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians, and our youth are around 24 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people,” Mr Duffy said.
“The Commissioner’s recommendations to address this growing social crisis and create safer communities through the implementation of justice targets and a justice reinvestment approach should be accepted and actioned as a matter of priority.”
In November 2014, SNAICC called on the Australian Government to create specific justice targets under Closing the Gap to address the soaring number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal and juvenile justice systems.
The call came after the release of the 2014 Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report from the Productivity Commission which contained alarming outcomes under adult justice, juvenile justice child protection.