Change the Record backs Law Reform Commission’s call to halt soaring numbers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being sent to prison

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

28 March 2018


The Australian Law Reform Commission report Pathways to Justice provides the Attorney-General and the Federal Government with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to halt soaring over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“The evidence is in. The Law Reform Commission provides a clear roadmap for change,” said Damian Griffis, Co-Chair of Change the Record.

“The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were being over-imprisoned because the justice system is unfair and discriminatory. 27 years later the ALRC has found that the over-imprisonment rate is getting worse. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are more likely to be sentenced to prison than non-Indigenous people convicted of an offence. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families and communities continue to be torn apart by increasing numbers of men, women and children being sent to prison,” said Mr Griffis.

“The Federal Government has rightly called this a ‘national tragedy’. It’s time for the Federal Government to commit to action and to work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to implement the changes the ALRC has recommended,” said Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of Change the Record. “We need to shift investment from expensive, ineffective prisons, into community controlled organisations that will address the underlying drivers of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people going into prison,” she said.

“The ALRC has called for national justice targets under Closing the Gap to reduce both over-imprisonment and violence. It’s a clear signal that the Federal Government needs to take a lead. The new Attorney-General has a landmark opportunity to make a difference. With the Closing the Gap framework being ‘refreshed’, the Royal Commission into Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory, and this report, the evidence is well and truly in. It’s an opportune time for a national approach through COAG,” said Ms Braybrook.

“The report addresses the fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are the fastest growing prison population in the country. Violence towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is a major driver of over-imprisonment – alarmingly, 70-90 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison have experienced physical, sexual and family violence,” said Ms Braybrook. “The report sets a clear path forward to stop Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women being imprisoned for issues related to poverty, disability, homelessness and trauma,” she said.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability are more likely to end up in the justice system because of a lack of understanding of disability in the criminal justice system and absence of appropriate community based support,” said Mr. Griffis. “The report has confirmed that governments need to do much more to provide appropriate community based support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability in order to avoid the criminalisation of disability,” he said.

“The Law Reform Commission has built on the evidence and expertise of past inquiries. This report provides an evidence-based guide governments can follow to turn the tide. They must act now and reform the aspects of criminal justice systems that lead to this inequality.  This is an urgent human rights issue. It’s time for change” he said.

The Change the Record Campaign has called for all Governments to work together through COAG to:

  • Work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations for a fully resourced national plan to reduce the rates of violence and imprisonment faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Make sure that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have access to justice, through adequate resources for culturally appropriate Aboriginal Community Controlled legal services
  • Implement national targets to reduce imprisonment and violence rates experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, through the Closing the Gap framework
  • Reform laws so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are not sent to prison for minor offences such as offensive language or unpaid fines
  • Reduce the number of people held on remand who have not been convicted of a crime
  • Give courts power to consider the circumstances faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people when determining sentences.