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Issue #1688      June 10, 2015

More of our kids held in detention

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander kids in NSW are now 44 times more likely than other children to be in detention. The number of juveniles in detention in NSW increased dramatically in the past six months, following changes to bail laws in September last year.

And more than half of juveniles in detention are Indigenous, according to figures provided by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The National Justice Coalition has recently launched the #ChangeTheRecord campaign to try to address the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in jails across the country.

National Justice Coalition co-chair Kirstie Parker told the Koori Mail the situation would continue to get worse until politicians showed “more guts and more brains”.

“The NSW figures are shocking at a time when we already know that the number of our people, especially kids and women, ending up in jail is increasing over time,” she said. “But a rapid increase in such a short time should shock people and has to send a message to the NSW government that they are coming at this the wrong way.

“The ChangeTheRecord campaign is advocating for smarter justice and safer communities by using smarter approaches to dealing with problems in a socially and economically smart way.”

NSW Greens MP and Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said the NSW government should be “hanging its head in shame” at the fact that young Aboriginal people are 44 times more likely to find themselves in jail than other children in the state.

“Late last year the Coalition and Labor joined together to degrade this state’s bail laws in response to yet another law-and-order campaign run by radio shock jocks and tabloid newspapers,” he said. “They removed the presumption of innocence and greatly expanded the list of offences where bail is automatically refused.

“The main reason the number of Aboriginal young people being jailed has surged is the new bail laws are seeing more and more bail refusals.

“We need to make a collective commitment to addressing this gross discrimination against Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system.”

The NSW adult prison population increased by 8.6% between September 2014 and March 2015, reaching a new record high in March of 11,363.

The increase is attributable to an increase in prisoners on remand (unconvicted prisoners awaiting trial or sentence). Between September 2014 and March 2015 the number of adult prisoners on remand increased by 23.3% (from 2,819 to 3,476). Over the same period, the number of sentenced prisoners rose by just 3.2% (from 7,642 to 7,887).

The increase in adult remand numbers since September 2014 was higher for Indigenous prisoners (up 28.9%) than for non-Indigenous prisoners (up 21.6%).

The total number of juveniles in custody rose substantially over the same period (up 23% from 252 to 310). The increase was significantly higher for Indigenous juveniles (up 34.2%) than for non-Indigenous juveniles (up 14.4%).

The number of juveniles on remand rose by 72% (from 93 to 160) between September 2014 and March 2015. Over this same period, the number of juveniles serving a sentence in custody fell slightly (down 5.1%).

Ms Parker said there had been a lack of political leadership on the disproportionate rates of Indigenous incarceration for many years.

“We count on our politicians to be smart and to be fair, and in this case we know the number of juveniles on remand is too high – it’s terrible to think that we are imposing a pre-emptive strike against our kids,” she said.

“ChangeTheRecord is about changing the narrative, the historic record but also the legislative record and that includes reactive and stupid policies that put more of our people behind bars, not less.

“No one is questioning that when people have their day in court, if convicted of a serious offence, that they will face a serious penalty, but ruining people’s lives, taking people away from families and communities for low-level, low-grade offences is impossible to justify.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Send letter for justice for child sexual abuse victims

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