$1.35m tackles high indigenous incarceration rates

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Corrections and Justice Health Minister Shane Rattenbury

IN an attempt to tackle the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system, the ACT government is providing $1.35 million to Aboriginal organisations over three years to establish programs for offenders, detainees and ex-detainees.

Corrections and Justice Health Minister Shane Rattenbury says Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise 1.9 per cent of the ACT population but currently make up 22 per cent of the ACT’s prison population.

To get these statistics down, the money will invest into programs such as “Front Up”, a program to assist people who have an outstanding warrant, have breached bail or breached a community-based sentence, “Circle Sentencing Court Support”, a program to provide support to those with matters before the Galambany Circle Sentencing Court, “Throughcare Support”, a client-centred program designed to enable people to succeed on their journey from prison to living back in the community and “Yarning Circles for Justice”, a series of 26-week programs that use co-designed activities to support ex-detainees in a group setting to stay in the community and rebuild their lives. 

Mr Rattenbury says justice reinvestment is a way forward in addressing these very real concerns in relation to the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.

“Justice reinvestment also acknowledges that some members of our community are significantly more likely to be incarcerated,” he says.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately represented across the justice system. 

“This is often compounded by social economic issues, combined with the effects of intergenerational trauma, disenfranchisement, colonisation and structural racism.” 


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  1. Any proposal to reduce the massive over representation of Aboriginal people in prison in the ACT is to be welcomed. Minister Rattenbury has been the Minister for Corrective Services for over six years now and in that time he has overseen a 135 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal people locked up at the AMC. Under his leadership the ACT has the highest relative rate of Indigenous incarceration in Australia. An Aboriginal person in Canberra is more than 20 times likely to be locked up than a non-Aboriginal person. A rate higher than even the Northern Territory or Western Australia. As shocking as this record of incarceration of Aboriginal people in Canberra certainly is it is compounded by the fact that the recidivism rate of Aboriginal people currently in prison in Canberra is over 90 per cent. This sorry record suggests that there is something seriously wrong with rehabilitation programs within the prison and with the much vaunted Throughcare program. So far as Aboriginal detainees are concerned both programs have clearly been a dismal failure. In fact it would be interesting to get the Ministers view on whether in his time as Minister he can point to a single success in any aspect of the administration of Corrective Services.

    In an interesting coincidence it was reported today that the ACT has maintained its record as one of the worst performing jurisdictions in Australia when it comes to child protection. The ACT produced over the last 12 months the largest increase in the relative rate of placement of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care with an Aboriginal child in Canberra over 16 times more likely to be in out-of- home care than a Non-Aboriginal child.

    • “An Aboriginal person in Canberra is more than 20 times likely to be locked up than a non-Aboriginal person. A rate higher than even the Northern Territory or Western Australia. ”

      How much of this is a product of the ACT being ‘worse’ in this regard then other jurisdictions, and how much of it is simply a product of ‘absolute terms’?

      I.e. we have a very small (numbers wise) aboriginal population, so it doesn’t take too many incarcerations I would expect to lead to a circumstance where we are the ‘outlier’.

      That isn’t at all to say we can’t do things a hell of a lot better – I think that’s a given. But statistical measures like that can sometimes be easily skewed somewhat by the relatively small size of the ACT.

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