Federal, State and Territory Governments have been handed a detailed blueprint for achieving justice targets, with the aim of closing the gap in the rates of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people by 2040.
The Blueprint for Change, released yesterday in Canberra by the Change the Record coalition, also outlines whole-of-government approaches for reducing the disproportionate rates of violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
The recommendations for a whole-of-government approach through COAG aim to promote community safety and reduce the rates at which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people come into contact with the criminal justice system.
They highlight the importance of health services, disability supports, drug treatment and affordable housing in helping to meet justice targets, and are underpinned by the following 12 principles:
- Invest in communities, not prisons.
- Local communities have the answers.
- Recognise the driving factors of imprisonment and violence – including poverty and disadvantage, with early intervention aimed at stopping family violence and avoiding exposure to the child protection system, by supporting families and strengthening communities.
- Focus on safety. The impacts of crime are felt most strongly by people in that community, particularly women and children. Successful early intervention and prevention strategies will not only cut offending and imprisonment rates, but importantly will increase safety by addressing the root causes of violence against women and children.
- Services, not sentences. The criminal justice system is often an ineffective or inappropriate way to respond to people who have a disability or are experiencing poverty, mental illness, drug or alcohol addiction, homelessness or unemployment. A social policy and public health response to such issues is needed – not a criminal justice one.
- Community-oriented policing. Many communities describe experiences of over or under policing, harassment or racism, which can sometimes exacerbate the situation for already marginalised and disadvantaged communities. Changes to the ways police interact with and enforce the law in communities experiencing poverty and disadvantage, as well as a greater level of cultural awareness, can play a vital role in building trust, promoting safety, reducing crime and building stronger communities.
- Smarter sentencing. Harsher sentences and laws that strip judges of their ability to make the sentence fit the crime, such as mandatory sentencing, need to be changed. A wider range of sentencing alternatives encompassing non-custodial options enables judges to ensure that sentences are tailored, fair and appropriate.
- Eliminate unnecessary imprisonment and consider more effective community options. Many people are imprisoned due to an inability to pay fines or are convicted for relatively minor offences. In many instances, sending a person to prison is unnecessary and can contribute to further involvement in the criminal justice system.
- Adopt community justice approaches. Therapeutic and restorative processes, such as Koori and Murri courts, drugs courts and healing circles, are ways in which the criminal justice system can help to rebuild relationships and deliver positive outcomes for the entire community. Investing in early intervention and prevention activities, such as community legal education, is more cost effective and prevents offending occurring in the first place.
- Young people don’t belong in prison. Punitive ‘tough on crime’ approaches to youth offending and misbehaviour fail to recognise that young people are still developing and that far more appropriate opportunities for support and positive reinforcement exist than putting children behind bars. Exposure to youth detention also substantially increases the likelihood of involvement in crime as an adult.
- Rehabilitation is in all our interests. Effective rehabilitation includes education and programs and support services to increase peoples’ capacity to reintegrate into the community following release.
- Reintegration not recidivism. Unfortunately, far too many people fall back into crime soon after being released from prison. This tells us that not enough support is being provided to people while in prison and during their transition back into the community. Better support needs to be provided to assist people to lead productive lives and fulfil their potential, which includes the provision of affordable housing, health care, and training and employment.
The Blueprint also calls for the establishment of an independent central agency with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander oversight, to co-ordinate a comprehensive, current and consistent national approach to related data collection and policy development.
National FVPLS Forum:
“The cost of family violence for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children is shocking – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 34 times more likely than non-Indigenous women to be hospitalised because of family violence. We must support our women to ensure their voices are not silenced, by providing the services that allow them to rebuild their lives.” – Antoinette Braybrook, National Convenor for the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum
“The soaring rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children being removed from their families and culture into out-of-home care is a tragedy for our communities and for this nation. Removing children from their families and communities is an early trigger for the cycle of imprisonment. To break this cycle we must invest in strengthening families and building Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander decision-making processes throughout the child protection system. We need to act now – together” – Rachel Atkinson.
Amnesty International Australia:
“Amnesty is known for its work around the world in in amplifying the voices of those who are marginalised and dispossessed. We acknowledge that the justice gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous people in Australia is evidence we don’t need to look abroad to see marginalisation or dispossession. We must address this here and now.” – Tammy Solonec, Indigenous People’s Rights Manager
“ANTAR, as a national advocacy organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander rights, is seriously concerned about the justice crisis that is leaving a generation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people behind. Report after report highlights the need for government to act on the rates of incarceration and violence experienced by First Peoples. Government must now commit to implementing the Change the Record Blueprint for Change” – Andrew Meehan, National Director
Human Rights Law Centre:
“The crisis of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and experiences of violence continues as one of the most critical human rights challenges facing Australia. We can not let this continue – we must fight for change.” – Ben Schokman, Director of Advocacy
“The strength of the Blueprint for Change is that it does not try and offer a singular simplistic solution to what are complex problems. Instead it recognises that if we are truly going to change the rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment and experiences of violence we need to tackle the issue on many fronts, in a co-ordinated and united way. This is the way forward.” – Justin McCaul,National Manager, Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Peoples Program
“The increasing rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly women, is horrifying. These are women who are the most disadvantaged, the most abused, and have the poorest health. These are women who do not belong in prison – they should be provided with support to ensure they do not end up there.” – Debbie Kilroy, CEO
Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos
“Far too many of our most vulnerable Aboriginal children and young people end up in the criminal justice system. We can do better to support our children and break the cycle of disadvantage.” – Andrew Jackomos
• Change the Record is a coalition of leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, human rights, legal and community organisations calling for urgent and coordinated national action to close the gap in imprisonment rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and cut disproportionate rates of violence experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly women and children. Take the Change the Record pledge here.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Mick Gooda
• Amnesty International
• Australian Council of Social Service
• Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic)
• First Peoples Disability Network (Australia)
• Human Rights Law Centre
• Law Council of Australia
• National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisations
• National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
• National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples
• National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum
• Oxfam Australia
• Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care
• Sisters Inside
• Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, Andrew Jackomos
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