June 28th, 2011
As in the United States, Canada and other countries, Indigenous people are dramatically overrepresented in the rates of incarceration. This no doubt has a lot to do with issues of poverty, disenfranchisement, and social issues arising from centuries of active and official repression.
Australia is suffering these same issue and a recent federal parliamentary committee report described the incarceration rates for young Indigenous people in that country as “shameful” and as a “national crisis.” Aboriginal youth are 28 times more likely to be detained than non-Indigenous youth.
This is not really news in Australia. Twenty years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths In Custody studied similar issues.
The committee made 40 wide-ranging recommendations including: better police training, incentives for school attendance and the introduction of mentoring programs.
The report says all pre-schoolers and incarcerated youth should have hearing tests, as it found 40 per cent of Indigenous people in urban areas and 70 per cent in rural Australia had a hearing loss, a disability that put them at high risk of contact with police.
The committee says the Government should include justice targets in its annual Closing The Gap statement alongside goals to improve life expectancy, health, education and employment.
The report also says the Government should set up a commission to examine how to increase Indigenous representation in Parliament, through quotas or specially dedicated seats, to give youth a voice.
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda, says Australia must act now, before it loses another generation to the criminal justice system.