The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT and Just Reinvest NSW are demanding a response from State and Federal Governments to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) report, Pathway to Justice Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples which was released 12 months ago.
After extensive consultation and research, the ALRC produced 35 recommendations to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system and to address community safety. Specific recommendations made to the Federal Government include:
- Introduction of a statutory requirement for police to contact an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal service, or equivalent service, ASAP after an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person is detained in custody;
- Developing national criminal justice targets; and
- The establishment of a national justice reinvestment body and supporting justice reinvestment trials around the country.
The ALS NSW/ACT and Just Reinvest NSW were amongst a number of organisations who signed an open letter six months ago calling for a response from the Federal Government.
The Commonwealth Department of Social Services recently committed to funding Maranguka Justice Reinvestment in Bourke ($1.5 million over five years), with a co-investment of $300,000 from the NSW Government for the first year. Many communities across Australia are eager to adopt a justice reinvestment approach however upfront investment from government is critical, as recommended in the Report.
On 14 February, in his Closing the Gap Speech, Federal Opposition Leader and Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, Bill Shorten stated “A Labor Government will make justice reinvestment a national priority, because youth detention and jail time for young people should be a rarity, not a rite-of-passage.”
Quotes attributable to Bunja Smith, Chair of ALS (NSW/ACT):
“We’re bitterly disappointed that 12-months on, the Federal Government has failed to respond to this important Report and its the long-list of recomendatons aimed at curbing the alarming levels of Aboriginal incarceration rates.”
“As we know, since the 1991 Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody, incarceration rates have continued to rapidly increase, particularly for Aboriginal women, who now represent 34% of Australia’s prison population.”
“The ALS is particularly concerned that the Federal Government still hasn’t provided us with any clarification on whether it will continue funding for the Custody Notification Service (CNS), which was a key recommendation of the Royal Commission.
“Our funding expires on 30 June, yet without further clarification from the Federal Government, we are in limbo and do not know if we can keep operating this essential service.”
“We’re calling on Indigenous Affairs Minister Nigel Scullion to act on this as a matter of urgency, if we have any chance of avoiding any more deaths in custody.”
Quotes attributable to Sarah Hopkins, Chair of Just Reinvest NSW:
“Twelve months ago, the ALRC produced a blueprint for state and federal governments to address the rates of over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The solutions are there. What is urgently needed now is action to implement those solutions.”
“The answer to the problem of too many people in contact with the justice system won’t be found inside the justice system. We solve this by getting in front of the problem, focusing on the local solutions that strengthen communities and keep people from offending in the first place.”
“Achieving outcomes like those seen in Bourke not only creates better outcomes for young people, their families and the communities they are part of, it also produces better financial outcomes and is responsible economic management.”
“Just Reinvest is currently working with other communities in NSW who are keen to go down this path. A small upfront investment has led to positive results downstream in Bourke. Governments should be getting behind justice reinvestment initiatives in other communities. We need to be building stronger communities, not prisons.”
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