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Thursday, 28 April 2016 12:26

Too many indigenous Australians in jail, trends show

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wire fence 2Salesian Father Chris Riley said the focus should be on young offenders in the juvenile justice system, only imprisoning as a last resort, reports The Catholic Leader.

Aboriginal deaths in custody are in decline, but indigenous Australians remain grossly over represented in jail.

There were 339 recommendations handed down by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991.

And 25 years later, Aboriginal people are still over represented in our prison system, despite many of the recommendations addressing this issue.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners account for 27 per cent of the total Australian prisoner population, but make up just two per cent of the total Australian population aged 18 years and over, and trends show that this incarceration rate is increasing annually.

Chief executive officer and founder of Youth Off The Streets Salesian Father Chris Riley said the focus should be on young offenders in the juvenile justice system, and looking at recommendation 92 of the report again – only imprisoning as a last resort.

“It is clear that jail is not working,” he said.

“For indigenous people it is important they get back to their family and their land, because of their culture.”

Fr Riley said diversionary programs that kept young indigenous offenders out of jail were far more likely to prevent re-offending.

And he has advocated restorative practices as an alternative to court-based responses.

“Restorative practices give the victims a voice, and require direct participation by victims and offenders,” Fr Riley said.

“Offenders are forced to take responsibility for their actions and also meet the needs of the victim and community.

“We do not give victims a voice in our current system – one that allows the victim to realise and talk about what they have done.”

Fr Riley said “shaming” was one successful way of making young indigenous offenders face what they have done in front of their community.

(Photo from Pixabay)

This article was first published on 13 April 2016 in The Catholic Leader, a publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.