Inquiry should focus on alternatives to incarcerating Indigenous people

Australian Human Rights Commission:

“Incoming Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda, has welcomed the first public hearing of the House of Representatives Standing Committee inquiry into the high level of involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system.

Commissioner Gooda said the Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs inquiry which starts today in Canberra, provided an ideal opportunity to put the spotlight on real alternatives to incarceration.

“For too long now we have accepted the over representation of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in our prison and court systems as normal,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“This inquiry could really help to turn the tide by looking into the life-saving and cost-saving potential of approaches such as justice reinvestment which diverts a portion of funds earmarked for imprisonment expenditure to local communities with a high concentration of offenders.”

Commissioner Gooda said juvenile detention should be the last resort for Indigenous young people who, if locked up, often escalated to a life of adult crime.

He said more money should be spent on prevention, early intervention and diversion instead of automatically reverting to a ‘lock them up’ approach.

“The federal government has already been applauded for its commitment to social inclusion and improving access to justice for vulnerable Australians, so let’s really try to make a difference here by trying a different approach,” Commissioner Gooda said.

“Clearly, when we have 25 per cent of the total prisoner population comprising Indigenous peoples and a staggering 82 per cent of the Northern Territory prison population comprising Indigenous people, we need to do things differently.

“Justice reinvestment gives us hope; by reinvesting funds from our existing imprisonment model to preventative programs and community services at the local level where there are acute problems, we have a chance to get in early and address the underlying causes of crime,” he said.

“I look forward to the inquiry outcomes and urge all policy makers and governments to seriously consider any recommendations for alternatives to incarceration, particularly justice reinvestment which has had demonstrated success in some states of the USA and in the United Kingdom.”