Screenshot of a video message by the Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP. The Minister is seated at his desk in his office.

Government promises action and money to counter Indigenous incarceration, Minister tells Justice Health 2021 conference

Government promises action and money to counter Indigenous incarceration, Minister tells Justice Health 2021 conference

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA

More action at a local level. More partnerships. More targeted funding. Greater research. And real targets to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in custody in the next decade.

Opening the 2021 PHAA Justice Health Conference, Federal Minister for Indigenous Australians, the Hon Ken Wyatt AM MP, conceded progress to date has been too slow. He bemoaned the still too high number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in adult and youth justice systems, both as offenders and as victims, and other areas such as within child protection.

“This overrepresentation is not acceptable,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Indigenous Australians are 13 times more likely to be in prison than non-indigenous Australians, making up 29 per cent of the adult prison population. But they make up only two per cent of the adult Australian population.

“Indigenous young people are 18 times more likely to be in youth detention than non-Indigenous Australian young people, making up 53 per cent of our youth detention population, but only six per cent of the Australian population aged 10-17 years.

“It has been 30 years since the historic Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The figures show that we have a great deal of work ahead of us.

“To achieve real results work must be done by all governments working in partnership with Indigenous communities to address the drivers which lead to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

“The National Agreement on Closing the Gap is an important framework to address this work. It is a critical framework to reduce the number of Indigenous adults and children aged 10-17 in incarcerated by 15 per cent, and 30 per cent respectively by 2031. We need genuine partnerships between the state and territories, Indigenous communities, organisations and leaders.

“This is why the National Agreement also includes a commitment to establish a Justice Policy Partnership.  It has been long overdue. The Justice Policy Partnership brings together equal representation of all state and territory governments, Coalition of the People peak organisation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander independent representatives.

“This also means that the Justice Policy Partnership commenced the process with its first meeting in September. Key themes arising out of those first discussions include the importance of community-based and place-based solutions. That is where change will occur if we are serious about changing incarceration rates. The creation of wholistic and supportive pathways out of the criminal justice system and the development of alternatives to incarceration will include preventive and early intervention models.

“Much more work is to be done in terms of identifying what those models are.  The Justice Policy Partnership has highlighted the critically importance of addressing drivers to incarceration, including physical and mental health and overrepresentation of Indigenous children in out of home care.”

In addition to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, the Minister said the Commonwealth had committed to a number of new initiatives. These included:

  • Working to support the healing and wellbeing of about 3,600 Stolen Generation survivors through the territory’s Stolen Generation Redress Scheme;
  • Supporting Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to do critical work with a $254 million boost to infrastructure;
  • Providing $66 million to strengthen Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander alcohol and other drugs treatment services;
  • $49 million over five years to improve multidisciplinary responses to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families with multiple and complex needs; and
  • An additional $274.5 million in 2021-22 through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy to fund a range of health, wellbeing, justice and community safety initiatives.

“One such program is community Night Patrols which employs Indigenous people to patrol their local communities and offer culturally-sensitive assistance and transportation to a safe place for those at risk of harm,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Another is the delivery of specialist legal services to Indigenous women. We achieve this through the Indigenous Women’s Program and Family violence prevention legal services. The cooperation and partnership between Government, Indigenous communities, organisations and leaders articulated through the National Agreement is a true first.

“It has set a foundation for our efforts to address the drivers of offending and reduce the rates of Indigenous incarceration,” he added.

The Justice Health 2021 virtual conference runs 3-4 November. This year’s theme is Evidence, Accountability, Action. Other topics to be covered include improving the wellbeing of trans and gender diverse people in the criminal justice system, and reforming youth justice. 

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