ACT continues to over-incarcerate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples at alarming rates
31 January 2023
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services and the ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) are today noting distressing statistics finding that the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the ACT justice system has worsened.
Whilst it is promising to see an overall reduction in the total number of people in prison, it is deeply concerning that there has not been a reduction in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees. The steep decline in education and training of detainees also underlines a major issue that has been consistently raised by community sector workers.
The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (RoGS)(link is external) today highlighted that:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are now 20 times more likely to be in prison in the ACT than non-Indigenous people, representing 26% of the AMC prison population.
- Whilst the total number of people in the prison has gone down and is at its lowest since 2014-15, there has not been a reduction in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees.
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still 12 times more likely to be under a community corrections order than non-Indigenous people.
- The percentage of eligible detainees receiving education and training is at an all-time low, and the second lowest in the country at 11.5%, well below the national average of 23.7%.
- Completion of community corrections orders is at an all-time high, and completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT are above the national average.
ACTCOSS Acting CEO Dr Gemma Killen Campbell said: “The over-incarceration of Indigenous people in the ACT continues to be an area of extreme concern. Without appropriate action, the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees will continue to grow rapidly in the ACT.
“The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander detainees in the ACT has doubled in the last decade, with the highest ratio of incarceration and highest levels of recidivism in the country. Plummeting levels of education and training for detainees have been an area of great concern to the community sector for years, pointing to a major failure of the ACT Government to respond to need and prepare detainees for life after prison.
“We appreciate that completion of community correction orders have reached an all-time high and significant improvements have meant that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people now have an above average completion rate. This progress is a testament to the success of alternative reporting sites, such as the one at Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, and indicative of the kind of community-lead programs that the ACT Government needs to be investing in for better outcomes,” said Dr Killen.
Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services CEO Julie Tongs OAM said: “The statistics continue to demonstrate that the ACT Government is failing to take appropriate actions to prevent over-incarceration and discrimination. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are being disadvantaged at every step, not just in the justice system but in access to housing, education, healthcare, and mental health services.
“Resolving this widespread injustice requires urgent investment in Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. These organisations are best placed to provide culturally safe and appropriate services across health, housing, drug and alcohol treatment services and justice. This is a whole of community problem and requires a whole of government response to prevent further pain and inequity,” said Ms Tongs.
Dr Gemma Killen, Interim CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0480 439 131 or 02 6202 7200.