FORMER ACT Corrections Minister Shane Rattenbury has admitted that indigenous prison numbers in the territory are unacceptable and that “more work needs to be done” to address the issue.
Mr Rattenbury, who was Corrections Minister from 2012-2020 and Minister for Aboriginal People from 2012-2015, says indigenous people are 19 times more likely to end up in jail in the ACT than non-indigenous people.
“This is unacceptable,” Mr Rattenbury says.
His acknowledgement of prison problems come on the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Referring to the royal commission, Mr Rattenbury points to an ACT government independent report in 2018, which showed the they had implemented 93 per cent of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
But a “concerted effort” to reduce over-incarceration was needed, he says.
Mr Rattenbury believes that with “decisive action”, driven by indigenous communities, the proportion of First Nation men and women in prison, can be reduced.
“It’s my goal, reflected in the parliamentary and governing agreement, to reduce incarceration of First Nations women and men to match non-indigenous incarceration rates by 2030,” Mr Rattenbury says.
“We are pushing ahead with raising the age of criminal responsibility as a very high priority because we know putting young children in jail only serves to entrench disadvantage, and that this disproportionately happens to First Nations kids.”
An ACT government spokesperson says actions taken by the government, over the past 30 years, to address recommendations made by the royal commission include establishing the Warrumbul and Galamby circle sentencing court, signing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander agreement and setting up the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elected body, the only forum of its kind in Australia.
The Canberra Liberals spokesperson for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs, Elizabeth Kikkert, says the “time for talk” and “failed government approaches” has passed.
The ACT’s incarceration ratio for Indigenous Australians is now the worst in the nation, she says, calling on the ACT government to change their approach.
“If what government is doing isn’t working, there must be quick action taken to find out why and then change approaches,” Ms Kikkert says.
“For example, young people in trouble too often move from youth justice into adult corrections, but Canberra currently has Australia’s lowest rate of Indigenous youths who successfully complete community-based justice orders.
“A genuinely responsive government will quickly go to the source, find out why, and then offer culturally appropriate case management that meets the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and their families.”