Joint media release: ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB) and the ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS)
The ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elected Body (ATSIEB) and the ACT Council of Social Service Inc. (ACTCOSS) today released a report outlining community concerns and solutions in relation to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT justice system. The report is from a forum that was held commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the release of the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and was attended by 90 representatives across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, ACT Government, and the community sector, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations.
The report identifies critical actions needed to address the disproportionately high incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT. These include:
- systemic change and education to address racism and inherent bias in the justice system
- better investment in social support and health services to address underlying causes
- adequate resourcing and support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led initiatives
- leadership from government and senior management that enables all of the above.
ATSIEB Chairperson, Mr Ross Fowler said, ‘there was strong support for justice reinvestment among forum participants and we note that the Yarrabi Bamirr justice reinvestment trial was subsequently launched on 26 April 2017.
‘But the report we’re releasing today highlights that more action is needed to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison. It makes a loud and clear call for the ACT Government to further support and resource diverse Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community programs and leaders working to address the social determinants of contact with the justice system and the care and protection system.’
ACTCOSS Director, Ms Susan Helyar said that ‘the report presents a challenge to non-Indigenous leaders in the government and community sectors to respect that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community organisations should access the resources to lead this vital work and determine whether and how they partner with others.
‘ACTCOSS welcomes recent ACT Government commitments to work collaboratively through initiatives like the justice reinvestment trial,’ Ms Helyar said. ‘What this report makes very clear is that more needs to be done, especially in terms of addressing systemic issues, including racism and inherent bias in the justice system.’
Mr Fowler noted that ‘in 2016 our community was hit hard by the tragic death in custody of Mr Steven Freeman. ATSIEB acknowledges the profound loss and ongoing grief experienced by Mr Freeman’s family and friends. We also acknowledge the enormous support that has been provided to Mr Freeman’s family and the community by Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service. Sadly, nothing can change what has happened, but more needs to be done to ensure it doesn’t happen again. This includes improving the safety and care of detainees, but also, as recommended by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody over 25 years ago, ensuring imprisonment is a sanction of last resort.’
For more information or comment please contact
Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS on 0448 791 987 or 02 6202 7200
Ross Fowler, Chairperson, ATSIEB on 02 6205 2551.