A New South Wales Aboriginal justice group says the numbers of young Indigenous people in jail could drop under a re-allocation of government resources, reports the ABC.
Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda this month described Aboriginal imprisonment levels as a national catastrophe.
The head of a trial initiative in Bourke aimed at tackling the issue said it costed $580 a day to keep a young person in custody.
The Bourke justice reinvestment program was aiming to prove that taxpayer money for prisons was more effectively spent on tailored intervention programs.
Just Reinvest New South Wales chairwoman Sarah Hopkins said taxpayers’ money could be more effectively spent on programs keeping young Aboriginal people out of the justice system.
“It’s also really important in terms of police-community relations and police are very much at the table with this,” she said.
“If the community knows that the police are also on the front foot with trying to improve the situation, it can really have a ripple effect in terms of preventing crime and looking at real diversion away from the court system.”
The head of the pilot in Bourke, Alistair Ferguson, said community circuit-breakers were a key tool in the program.
He said a ‘warrant amnesty’, incorporating legal and social support for those who had a warrant out for their arrest, was likely to get off the ground locally in the new year.
“I must emphasise that every step we’ve taken, there’ve been very small steps to ensure that we get it right,” he said.
“That we consult with the community and certainly being mindful that, and this is what’s different here, that this is community-led, it’s a community-owned process.”
Mr Ferguson said other towns in the west including Broken Hill and Wilcannia could consider a new approach to and find the root cause of the high levels of incarceration.
“Certainly what’s important is that it’s a community-driven process, you know from the grassroots up, or the grassroots down is probably a better way of putting it,” he said.
“Because there’s an appetite from communities for change and part of that change and being instrumental and instigating that change is the key to the success of this and everyone’s a winner.”
Sarah Hopkins from Just Reinvest New South Wales said the program had been received positively by the state government so far, and that it could be potentially rolled out to the far west if successful.
“If you can look to now rolling this out in other Aboriginal communities in New South Wales, what will happen is there’ll be genuine, significant savings in terms of the corrections budget and those savings should then be reinvested back into crime prevention and diversion in communities,” she said.