Posted on March 6, 2012

Indigenous Jail Rate ‘Shameful’

Dan Oakes, The Age, March 6, 2012

Aboriginal youths are 25 times more likely to be imprisoned than their non-indigenous counterparts, a figure Aboriginal legal activists have called “shameful”.

They are also much more likely to be the subject of child abuse notifications and protection orders.

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures also show that adult prisoners are 18 times more likely to be indigenous than non-indigenous, more than double the figure 20 years ago.

“I think it’s shameful that in a 20-year period those figures have actually increased,” Shane Duffy, chairman of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service Forum said.

Mr Duffy said that while governments often had the best of intentions, they were ignorant of what was needed to fix the massive disparity between the indigenous and non-indigenous prison population.

“They still fail to see the need for rehabilitation and diversionary centres for our people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol. They still fail to adequately fund alternative dispute resolution processes,” he said.

In 2010, there were 17 non-indigenous youths in detention per 100,000. In contrast, 429 Aboriginal youths per 100,000 were detained, more than there were 16 years ago, when figures were first collected.

For adults, about 2300 Aborigines per 100,000 of the indigenous population are in jail — more than double the figure in 1992 — as opposed to 130 per 100,000 of the non-indigenous population.

Aborigines in prison for murder or sexual assault are more than twice as likely as their non-indigenous counterparts to have been in prison before.

Mr Duffy said many Aboriginal prisoners had mental illnesses, and that localised services were needed to help sufferers before they ended up in prison. “The vast majority, I would suggest, of our people are incarcerated because of mental health issues. Local communities understand historical context and these services need to be local,” he said.

“Our people are being on remand for periods of up to 12 or 18 months, waiting for psychiatric assessment, and when they come back to be sentenced, they would never have been sentenced to imprisonment in the first place.”

The figures for child maltreatment also revealed the immense gap between Aborigines and the rest of the Australians population.

In 2010-11, more than a quarter of the substantiated notifications nationwide were for Aboriginal children, even though they make up only 3 per cent of the population. The figure was seven times that for non-indigenous children.

Indigenous children are also 10 times more likely to be the subject of care and protection orders, a figure that has jumped from 30 to 51 per 1000 children in the past four years, while the rate for non-Aboriginal children has remained static at about five per 1000.

The figures also show that Victoria spent less per head on its police force than any other state or territory in 2010 — $427, compared to $1560 in the Northern Territory. The national average was $493.