February 16, 2016
Reconciliation Australia today joins with coalition partners in calling on government to develop justice targets to reduce the high rates of imprisonment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
There is an enormous amount of evidence to support the call for justice targets. Today Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men are more likely to go to prison than university – while Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women today make up the fastest growing sector of the prison population. In 2013, the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults was 13 times the rate for non-Indigenous adults: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people aged 10 to 17 are 24 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous youths, and disturbingly, these rates are worsening over time.
As such, Reconciliation Australia urges all Australian governments – both federal and state – to renew and lift their action on the Closing the Gap targets and framework. This must include strategic targets that speak directly to reducing rates of incarceration in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, community-led strategies and funding that can effectively achieve the Closing the Gap targets.
While Federal Government officials have looked to state-based agencies to act, Reconciliation Australia reaffirms that all levels of government have a responsibility for ensuring that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men and women are no longer significantly over-represented in the justice system.
The Closing the Gap targets, developed and agreed by all Australian governments under COAG, provide a common and transparent framework for diverse groups across governments, business and the wider community to work towards improving health, education and employment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
The Closing the Gap framework and the inclusion of justice targets must be a priority for discussion and action at the next COAG meeting.
In 2014, the Commonwealth Government added the target for school attendance, and Reconciliation Australia joins the Social Justice Commissioner, the National Justice Coalition, Change the Record and others in calling for the inclusion of justice targets in the Closing the Gap framework.
The high social and economic costs of imprisonment provide a strong incentive to act. If Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were imprisoned at the same rate as non-Indigenous Australians, the rate would fall by about 94 per cent, saving more than $600 million annually. Targets must also consider that where fewer people are incarcerated, strong, healthy communities can flourish.
Long-term, consistent and coordinated government efforts is critical to improving life outcomes and opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. As such, in order to measure gains in this area effectively, it is crucial to include justice targets and indicators in the Closing the Gap framework. We urge all levels of government to consider the urgency of acting to improve lives across Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, both now and into the future.
The State of Reconciliation in Australia report, released by Reconciliation Australia, speaks to equality and equity in renewing focus on Closing the Gap. An executive summary and full copy of the report are available here.
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