Labor welcomes today’s announcement that the Australian Law Reform Commission will undertake an inquiry into incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians, but calls for immediate action to address Indigenous justice issues.
The Government should not use today’s announcement as an excuse for delay.
If you are an Aboriginal man, you are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Aboriginal man. Half of all Aboriginal prisoners are under 30. The re-imprisonment rate for Aboriginal young people is higher than the school retention rate.
These appalling numbers demand immediate action, including the reversal of the Government’s cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, further examination of non-custodial options, and a focus on justice reinvestment.
Next year, Aboriginal Legal Services across Australia are facing a cut of $4 million a year. The cuts to these vital front-line services means less access to qualified advice and proper representation. 25 years on from the Royal Commission into Indigenous incarceration, we are yet to see nationwide implementation of custody notification services that stop deaths.
Labor also repeats its call for national justice targets under the Closing the Gap framework, developed in cooperation with state and territory governments, law enforcement agencies, legal clinics and social services and guided by community leaders, Elders and Aboriginal representative organisations.
National justice targets will allow us to focus on community safety, preventing crime and reducing incarceration.
There also has to be as much focus on the factors that can help prevent the high levels of incarceration, as well as what happens to individuals once in the criminal justice system and corrective services.
The inquiry announced today is a welcome step, but it’s time for immediate action to tackle the incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians.