Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2021 Week 02 Hansard (Tuesday, 9 February 2021) . . Page.. 291 ..
that Canberra has the nation’s highest over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison—21.3 times greater than for non-Indigenous people, using crude rates, and 19 times greater using age-standardised rates.
The 2020 report of the Productivity Commission, which looks at average daily numbers but uses older data, reveals similar figures. The crude imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the ACT across 2018-19 was 18.93 times greater than for non-Indigenous people—just slightly behind Western Australia. When the crude data are adjusted according to age-standardised rates, the ACT has the worst ratio of over-representation in the entire nation, with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people one-third more likely to be locked up than in Australia as a whole. I therefore welcome the government’s 2019 commitment to provide $1.35 million in justice reinvestment funding to help address Indigenous incarceration rates in the ACT.
Justice reinvestment, as defined by the Australia Law Reform Commission, involves the redirection of resources from the criminal justice system into local communities that have a high concentration of incarceration. Done right, this approach addresses the causes of offending, both reducing the rate and creating savings. Locking people up is not just expensive but, very often, too damaging.
Spending on justice reinvestment measures is, therefore, good for the budget but, more importantly, good for individuals, for families and our communities. As Change the Record, a coalition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander human rights and community organisations, said in their Blueprint for Change, we should invest in communities, not prisons. To be effective, a justice reinvestment approach must be done with care and also with wisdom. I sincerely hope that the ACT government will succeed at this endeavour, for everyone’s sake.
I likewise support the government’s promise, announced in August last year, to commission a review of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-representation in the territory’s incarceration rates. I am keen to see this review go forward and, hopefully, help lead to good outcomes. I was also happy to read, over the weekend, that the Chief Minister has agreed that more ambitious targets for reducing the rate of Indigenous incarceration and recidivism in the ACT need to be on the agenda. The government’s goal of a mere five per cent by 2028 is simply not good enough, so now we need the government to be proactive with this agenda and not just talk.
But the rate at which they and their kin are locked up is not the only issue for First Nations people in Canberra. As I have listened to those who have spoken with me, it has become clear that the experience of incarceration is a major concern as well. An incident that was reported in the media a year ago provides a glimpse into some of what has contributed to these concerns. This incident, which I choose not to discuss in detail, involved a drawing of a hangman game on a whiteboard in a staff-only area of the prison, with the hanged figure labelled with the name of an Indigenous detainee. This incident was, of course, roundly condemned by all involved, but it certainly emphasises the vulnerabilities that can be experienced by those who, deprived of many of their freedoms, may find themselves dependent on those who do not respect them.