Failed laws and failed politics sees Aboriginal imprisonment numbers soar

Sunday, March 19, 2017 | David Shoebridge

Failed policies and aggressive policing by the Coalition government has seen the number of Aboriginal people in NSW prisons reach a tragic high. Figures obtained by the Greens show the number of Aboriginal people in NSW jails has grown 35% since the Coalition came into office in 2011.

In March 2011 there were 2,269 Aboriginal people in NSW jails representing 22.4 percent of the jail population. By the end of 2016 there were 3,059 Aboriginal people in jail representing 24.1 percent of all inmates.

Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said: "Something is deeply broken in our criminal justice system that sees Aboriginal people, who make up just 2.5 percent of the general population, constitute almost a quarter of the prison population.

"It's not just the raw numbers that are growing, but also the rate of Aboriginal imprisonment, and this is a damning  indictment on the Liberal government's priorities.

"Every MP, from whatever party, needs to make an immediate commitment to turn this around and stop voting for laws that make it worse. It should start with a promise from Premier Berejiklian to reverse the numbers.

"The appalling increase in Aboriginal imprisonment is a result of failing bail laws, aggressive policing and more discretionary police powers that target our first peoples.

"These are backward policies that gain the support of both the Coalition and ALP at the expense of justice reinvestment policies that we know can work to reduce both offending and imprisonment.

"Instead of spending on education and diversionary programs this government wants more and bigger jails, with a record $3.8 billion increase in these broken policies. They are hell bent on reinforcing failure.

"Meanwhile legal breaches, such as driving without a licence, that would never see a non-Aboriginal person in jail regularly end in Aboriginal imprisonment.

“If we can’t get the policy settings right in NSW, which is the state with largest and most diverse economy as well as the largest Aboriginal population, then we really are in trouble.

“There are no excuses for these figures in NSW.  We have the resources to address injustice, growing economies in our regional centres and big cities and Aboriginal communities who have been consistently telling government what needs to be done.

“What we are missing is the political commitment to deliver on the rhetoric of ‘justice reinvestment’.

“This won’t be fixed by one off pilot projects, it needs a consistent two pronged approach that winds back discretionary police powers and delivers on the promise of Aboriginal empowerment through education, housing and health,” Mr Shoebridge said.

See data from NSW Parliament.

See reporting in the media.