The Labor Party has announced it will fund an additional $107 million to cut down the rate of Indigenous incarceration if it wins the next election. The ALP pledges to make jail a ‘last resort’ solution and will focus on justice targets for Indigenous people. This funding package includes $44 million for legal aid, $21.75 million for justice reinvestment programs, and $20 million for refuges and safe houses.
This is a step in the right direction to tackle the Indigenous incarceration crisis within the criminal justice system.
Indigenous People Remain Grossly Over-represented in Australian Prisons
Still, our politicians have remained silent on the serious issues concerning sentencing and custody regimes, which have significantly disadvantaged Indigenous people. Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) people make up around 3% of the total population in Australia, there are over 27% ATSI people in the national prison population.
In December 2018, Western Australia had the highest Indigenous imprisonment rate across the nation with over 4,200 persons per 100,000 adult ATSI population. These disturbing figures are a result of the Bail Act and the extreme powers of police. These harsh laws have placed some ATSI people in jail for simply not paying fines or repeated driving offences.
Poor Health Outcomes for Incarcerated Aboriginal Mothers
A recent study also showed the health needs of Aboriginal mothers in Australian prisons were not being met. Professor Elizabeth Sullivan of University of Newcastle detected the “lack of culturally informed patient-centred health programs” in her research.
Therefore, it is important for Aboriginal women to join government leaders with shaping successful health programs. In particular, a government initiative such as Closing the Gap requires the voices of Indigenous people to share their experiences and concerns. Closing the Gap aims to improve the lives of ATSI people by providing them with equal outcomes in health, education, and employment as non-Indigenous Australians.
Ultimately, the cycle of trauma and inequality for Indigenous people within the criminal justice system must be broken immediately.