Communist Party of Australia

We acknowledge the Sovereignty of the First Nations’ Peoples.

The Web CPA Archive Only

Issue #1578      January 23, 2013

Warning as juvenile jailings hit new high

Australia will be dealing with a “horrendous” adult Aboriginal prison population in the next five to ten years unless dramatic steps are taken now to curb the rising number of Aboriginal youth being locked up in detention. Figures released by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that the national rate of Aboriginal juvenile incarceration has continued to climb steadily, rising from 27 times the non-Indigenous rate in 2008, to the current level of 31 times.

Across the country, Aboriginal young people make up 54 percent of all juveniles incarcerated, with the Northern Territory and Western Australia much higher.

AIHW spokesperson Tim Beard said one in every 217 Indigenous young people aged 10-17 years would be in detention “on any average night”.

The problem was particularly bad for young Aboriginal males, he said, as they accounted for 91 percent of young people in detention.

Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT chief legal officer John McKenzie told the Koori Mail newspaper that the ALS considered the problem a “national crisis”.

Mr McKenzie, who has been involved in the ALS for more than 30 years, said it would be almost impossible to deal with unless the federal government began taking the issue seriously.

Mr McKenzie was also critical of federal government funding to Aboriginal legal services, which remained stagnant in comparison to Legal Aid funding.

“We are very concerned that as the problem gets worse we will be falling even further behind in what’s required,” he said.

“We are doing our best to pay staff what they’re worth but our lawyers on average are earning 20 to 25 percent less than equivalent lawyers at Legal Aid.”

The release of the AIHW figures prompted Warren Mundine, the head of the Generation One Indigenous employment initiative, to call for a national summit on the issue, accusing governments of creating an “Indigenous prison industry”.

Mr Mundine told the Australian newspaper that Aboriginal over-representation in jails and juvenile detention centres was ‘a ticking time bomb and a “disaster for the future of Aboriginal communities”.

Mr McKenzie said he would support such a summit, but warned that it was a starting point, not an end point.

Justice Reinvestment campaigner, Dr Tom Calma, who championed the idea of spending money on prevention rather than detention in his 2009 Social Justice Report, also tentatively backed the summit idea.

Dr Calma said however that there was already some very positive work underway, especially at a state and territory level, and that a federal Senate inquiry announced in November was also examining justice reinvestment.

Dr Calma urged anyone interested in the issue to make submission to that inquiry by March 15, 2013. The reporting date is May 18, 2013.

On another front, Dr Calma said the Justice Reinvestment campaign, which is supported by the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, was lobbying to have the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to take the issue on.

“We’re targeting COAG because we want a national commitment led by the federal government,” Dr Calma said.

“Each prison system is run by states or territories and it’s important that there needs to be national leadership (to reduce Aboriginal incarceration rates).”

Meanwhile, Northern Territory Attorney General John Elferink has reportedly dismissed Mr Mundine’s call for a national summit.

Despite the Territory having the nation’s highest incarceration rate per head of population of both Indigenous young people and adults, Mr Elferink told the ABC that it wasn’t the government’s role to fix these problems, “the role starts with the parents”.

Indigenous people account for 29 percent of the Territory population, but 78 percent of people in detention are Aboriginal.

As reported elsewhere, the NT government has just cut funding to the Balunu Foundation in Darwin, an Aboriginal-run charity set up to keep young Aboriginal people alive and out of trouble.

Koori Mail  

Next article – Survival Day events around the nation – January 26

Back to index page