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The nation's peak law bodies are uniting to demand an end to the escalation in Indigenous prison rates. The Law Council of Australia and the Australian Bar Association recently met in Darwin with representatives from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services to plan an ongoing campaign to focus attention on chronic Aboriginal over-representation in state prisons.
The groups are calling for the issue to be placed at the top of the agenda at the Council of Australian Governments and are urging the federal government to adopt justice targets as part of its suite of policies aimed at closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage within a generation.
Law Council of Australia and Australian Bar Association president Michael Colbran QC said tough-on-crime policies such as mandatory sentencing, which exists in Western Australia and to a limited extent in the Northern Territory (NT), were swelling jail numbers.
‘The systems currently in place are failing Indigenous Australians and need to be critically examined with a view to change,' Mr Colbran said.
In the NT, Aboriginal people make up more than 90% of the jail population on any given night, and in WA the rate of Indigenous incarceration stands at about 40%.
Law Council president-elect Duncan McConnel pointed to a recent report compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare that found there had been a substantial increase in Indigenous deaths in custody over the past two decades. The increase was not due to a rise in the proportion of deaths in custody but was blamed on an almost doubling of the numbers of Indigenous prisoners.
‘What we are seeing is an increase in Indigenous Australians coming into the criminal justice system and then a disproportionately high number remaining in it,' Mr McConnel said. ‘This is not just an issue of how the criminal justice system deals with Indigenous Australians, but why they are coming into the system in the first place.'
The meeting of peak law bodies comes a day after the release of an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report which published figures indicating the crisis in Indigenous youth justice is set to deepen even further. The figures showed Aboriginal children were entering the criminal justice system at ever younger ages, with Indigenous children aged 10-14 being 23 times as likely to be under community-based supervision during 2011-12, and 25 times as likely to be in detention, as their non-Indigenous counterparts.
Source: ABC news