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Issue #1686      May 27, 2015

National Justice Coalition wants record changed

A coalition of 16 leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and human rights organisations is urging all Australians to work together to reduce the staggering prison rates and violence faced by Australia’s First People.

The National Justice Coalition, co-chaired by Kirstie Parker, who is also co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and Shane Duffy, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services chair, launched the Change the Record campaign in Redfern.

They are calling on Australian governments to show leadership in closing the gap in imprisonment rates and the disproportionate rate of violence by 2040.

Figures released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that between 2004 and 2014, the number of Indigenous people in prison rose by 88%.

The statistics for Indigenous people are alarming: 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than other Australians; 3% of the Australian population making up 27% of the prison population; women hospitalised at a rate 34 times more than their non-Indigenous sisters as a result of family violence; and higher re-imprisonment rates than Year 12 retention rates.

The National Justice Coalition says this is devastating communities and generations of people, with so many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people simply missing from their families.

“They are missed, they are someone and they matter in our communities,” Ms Parker said. “Which one of us is prepared to look another generation in the eye and concede that while the solutions were in our grasp we did not take them and we didn’t try?”

The crisis has been described as one of the most significant human rights challenges facing Australia. The National Justice Coalition believes that, while the situation is critical, it is not hopeless and many proven solutions exist.

Members are calling for investment in prisons to be redirected into early intervention, prevention and diversion strategies, which address the causes of violence and imprisonment, and are urging all levels of government to work with Indigenous people, communities, services and their representatives, to develop and implement solutions.

As well as smarter sentencing, they called for appropriate focus on rehabilitation, reintegration for prisoners, and smarter social policy and public health provisions so the prison system is not filled with those suffering homelessness, mental illness, poverty or addiction.

At the launch, individuals shared their personal stories of incarceration, hope and optimism. Mr Duffy used the justice reinvestment program at Bourke, NSW, as an example of good practice, where the community was engaged in shaping its own solutions to lower its community’s incarceration rates.

“Solutions”

“The strength of the Change the Record campaign is that it consists of organisations that have the experience and expertise to identify what the solutions are and work with the public, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and the government to implement them,” he said.

“We don’t believe the current approach to crime and public safety is working.”

Ms Parker said the campaign had been generated through the great frustration among grassroots and other organisations that things are not getting any better.

“In fact, they’re getting worse,” she said. “Frankly, we are all tired of hearing the bad statistics. We know there are solutions and that with a shared commitment we can change these statistics.”

Mr Duffy said more and more was being spent on prisons and not enough on crime preventative initiatives and justice diversion, which could reduce the cost on the public purse.

“It’s about spending money allocated to crime and justice in a smarter way,” he said. “Justice reinvestment is an evidence-based approach which provides better bang for the buck by ensuring funding is sent where it will have the greatest impact. That’s fiscal economic sense.

“We are also asking everyday Australians to stand with us in this effort. We know the issues and we know the solutions. We all want to live in safe and strong communities. Work with us, support us and together we can Change the Record.”

The coalition encourages the public to sign an online pledge and promote Change the Record (www.changetherecord.org.au) via social media including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

The Koori Mail

Next article – Sydney University silent on professor cleared of anti-Semitism

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