Highest prisoner numbers in a decade, NT communities no better off
The number of prisoners in Australia has reached a ten year high, but current law and order policies are not making our communities safer, says the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA). The figures, released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics last week, also show the highest annual increase in national prisoner numbers since 2004.
‘We know the terrible effect of incarceration on our communities and we must break the cycle,’ said NAAJA CEO Priscilla Collins. ‘These figures show that the cycle is not only continuing but the situation is far worse than it was ten years ago.’
The NT imprisonment rate is five times the national imprisonment rate, increasing to 83 prisoners per 10,000 adults. 7 out of 10 prisoners have been locked up before, higher than the national rate.
Northern Territory prisoners serve shorter sentences that other parts of Australia. NT Prisoners serve an average sentence length of 1.3 years compared to 3 years nationally. ‘These short, sharp sentences just expose more Aboriginal people to custody, and all the evidence shows that once people are in the custodial system, they stay in it,’ said Ms Collins.
Alarmingly, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the NT make up 86% of the adult prison population, compared to 27% nationally, and are being locked up at a rate of 239 per 10,000 people. This is 15 times the rate that non-Aboriginal people are being locked up.
‘‘The Social Justice Commissioner has reported that we’re better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison than in school,’ Ms Collins said. ‘Proper investment in health, social and education services must be a priority.’
‘Building more prisons and locking up more of our people is not the answer. We need to invest in strategies that tackle the root causes of criminal behaviour head-on,’ according to Ms Collins. ‘Punitive bail laws, strict mandatory sentencing regimes and the recent introduction of paperless arrests only make the problem worse. Just this week, United Nations representatives expressed serious concerns about the effect of mandatory sentencing on Aboriginal people.’
‘NAAJA supports calls from the Social Justice Commissioner, Law Council of Australia, APONT and National Justice Coalition for the implementation of Justice Targets to address the national emergency of Aboriginal over-incarceration across Australia, but especially in the NT.’
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