Deaths in custody on the decline, but incarceration rates still troubling

Aboriginal deaths in custody are in decline, but the over representation of Aboriginal people in jail is still a major concern.

339 recommendations were handed down by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody in 1991. 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% of the total Australian prisoner population but make up just 2% of the total Australian population aged 18 years and over, and trends show that this figure is increasing annually.

Father Chris Riley, CEO and Founder of Youth Off The Streets, says we need to focus on young offenders in the juvenile justice system and look at recommendation 92 of the report again – only imprisoning as a last resort.

“It is clear that the current system is not working. If we are ever going to see real change we need to address the root causes of why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people end up in the justice system and this starts with young people in the juvenile justice system. Imprisonment should be a last resort and restorative practices need to be utilised as an alternative,” he says.

Restorative practices provide an alternative to court based responses when dealing with juvenile offenders and may go a long way in preventing re-offending. Restorative practices require direct participation by victims and offenders. Offenders are forced to take responsibility for their actions and also meet the needs of the victim and community.

After 25 years and 339 recommendations the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody has had little effect on the prisoner population. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are still over represented. To combat this we need to focus on young people and only use imprisonment as a last resort. Restorative practices are a community-based approach that focuses on positive outcomes that re-integrate young people back into the community.

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