Aborigines are 2% of population,
26% of people in Australian jails
The despicable way the nation imprisons Indigenous Australians is atrocious...and getting worse. Governments refuse to meet their responsibilities to tackle the issue. Trend figures, provided by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, show the situation is getting worse. It is past time the federal government created a crises taskforce to address the problem, Bill Rowlings writes.
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Aborigines are 2% of population,
26% of people in Australian jails
By Bill Rowlings*
The way Aborigines are treated by the Australian justice system is atrocious, and getting worse. It is officially-sanctioned racism.
Politicians, police, jailers, magistrates, judges and the Australian community as a whole must take responsibility for moving urgently to correct this example of discrimination against Indigenous Australians.
If the Australian Government wants to intervene anywhere, it should be on behalf of Indigenous Australians in jail…particularly in WA, NSW and SA.
CLA calls on Minister Jenny Macklin and the Australian Government to set up an Indigenous prisoner crisis taskforce with the aim of reducing the number of Indigenous people in jail by 10% within a year throughout Australia, and by 20% in WA, NSW and SA.
CLA earlier in 2009 called on the WA Minister for Police and Corrective Services, in our Australia Day 2009 letter, to actively lower the Indigenous imprisonment rate in WA by 26 January 2010…but our pleas were totally rebuffed.
As Dr Brian Steels, head of the Restorative Justice Research Unit at Murdoch University explains, the WA Government responds to such figures by building more prisons, rather than taking a deep look into a history that is repeating itself.
“When we need houses we get prisons, when we ask for help to 'close the gap', we are shown how to open a cell door, when we call for social justice we get told that justice is being done,” he said.
Indigenous prisoners represented 26% of the total full-time prisoner population in the June quarter 2009. The Indigenous population aged 18 and over for the same period was 2% of the Australian population.
These figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics are an indictment on the nation, and particularly on WA which has the highest Indigenous imprisonment rate (3,846 Indigenous prisoners per 100,000 adult Indigenous population).
The way WA locks up Aborigines is clearly racist, based on ABS figures. WA and other governments in Australia are obviously running racist “justice” systems, according to the ABS statistics.
NSW was the second worse state (2,617) and SA third (2,472). The lowest Indigenous imprisonment rate was recorded in Tasmania (619 per 100,000), followed by the ACT (945).
More than 75% of the total Indigenous prisoner population numerically are in NSW (2,296), Western Australia (1,725) and Queensland (1,581).
The national average daily Indigenous imprisonment rate in the June quarter 2009 was 2,343 per 100,000 adult Indigenous population, an increase of 3% from the previous quarter, and a 7% increase from the June quarter 2008.
Victoria was the only state to record a proportional decrease (3%) in the prisoner population over the same period.
Different age profiles of the Indigenous and non-Indigenous population can affect the imprisonment rate numbers, the ABS says. The quarterly collection is unable to take age into account; however, data from the Prisoner Census collection can provide this level of detail.
The ABS reports that the national age standardised Indigenous imprisonment rate from the annual Prisoner Census conducted at June 2008 was over 13 times higher (1,769 per 100,000 adult Indigenous population) than the rate for non-Indigenous persons (133 per 100,000 adult non-Indigenous population).
The key questions are whether Indigenous Australians are 13 times more criminal than other Australians - a proposition for which there is absolutely no evidence, other than incarceration rates - or whether Indigenous Australians are 13 times more likely to be targeted by police and selected out for racist decisions by the 'justice' system.
Details: ABS: Prisoners in Australia, 2008 (cat.no.4517.0). 4512.0 - Corrective Services, Australia, Jun 2009
* Bill Rowlings is CEO of CLA
In July 2009, CLA’s CLArion newsletter also reported on the problem:
Indigenous jail rates double...and treble
Indigenous imprisonment has almost doubled since the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody, a newspaper reported last month. Major newspapers are now picking up on a problem CLA has been highlighting since January 2009, when we called in our Australia Day letters for the horrific rate of imprisonment of Indigenous people in WA to be formally targeted for reduction.
Eighteen years after the Royal Commission, the number of Indigenous women in prisons has more than trebled throughout Australia to make up one-third of all inmates; more than half of the 10 to 17-year-olds in juvenile detention are indigenous, the SMH reported.
In the NT, 83% of inmates are Indigenous; in Western Australia it is 41% in a State where Indigenous people make up single figure percentage of the population. NSW, with 20% Indigenous in jail, has the fourth highest proportion.
Drug and alcohol abuse is a major cause, according to the Australian National Council on Drugs, and more treatment programs for Indigenous offenders are sorely needed.
The council's National Indigenous Drug and Alcohol Committee says jail rates are destroying Indigenous communities and wasting public resources.
Almost 7 in 10 Indigenous adult detainees and up to 90% of juvenile detainees in NSW test positive to drugs, but many are disqualified from diversion programs because they have alcohol issues or a history of violent offences.
The report, Bridges And Barriers: Addressing Indigenous Incarceration And Health, calls for increased investment in treatment such as residential rehabilitation, which costs less than half the $269-a-day that a jail inmate costs.
The committee's chairman, Associate Professor Ted Wilkes, said governments persisted with ineffective law and order policies in pursuit of votes and ignored the remnants of structural racism in Australia's justice systems.
To see CLA’s Australia Day 2009 letter to the WA Minister, go to:
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