Imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are significantly
overrepresented in the Australian prison system. This chapter gives a brief
overview of the imprisonment rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Australians and considers the adequacy of statistical information on Indigenous
imprisonment rates. The chapter concludes with a discussion on the inclusion of
justice targets in the Closing the Gap measures.
Imprisonment of adults
In 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people made up
approximately two per cent of the total Australian population aged 18 years and
over. However, at 30 June 2015, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
prisoners accounted for just over a quarter (27 per cent or 9,885
prisoners) of the total Australian prisoner population (36,134 prisoners).
The total number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners at
30 June 2015 represented a seven per cent increase in numbers (or 620
prisoners) from 30 June 2013, when there were 9,265 Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander prisoners.
Of the total of 9,885 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners,
90 per cent (8,859 prisoners) were male.
This is comparable to the overall Australian prisoner population, where males
accounted for 93 per cent of all prisoners.
As at 30 June 2015, the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people was 13 times greater than the imprisonment rate for
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate was 1,951 prisoners
per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult population, compared
with 153 prisoners per 100,000 adults for the non-Indigenous population.
Appendix 3 of this report sets out a table of the annual ratio of
Indigenous prisoners to non-Indigenous prisoners, by state and territories, for
The data shows that while the ratio of Indigenous prisoners might vary year on
year, over the period 2005-2015, in the majority of states and territories
there has been a general upward trend in the ratio of Indigenous prisoners.
Western Australia has the highest imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people, with 3,067.4 prisoners per 100,000 Aboriginal
and Torres Strait Islander adult population, which is 17 times the imprisonment
rate for non-Indigenous Australians in that state (180.8 prisoners per 100,000
adults for the non-Indigenous population).
The Australian Capital Territory's imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people was 14.1 times the rate for the non-Indigenous
and in the Northern Territory, the imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander people was nearly 14 times the rate for the non-Indigenous
The Northern Territory had the greatest proportion of prisoners
identifying as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, with 84.4 per cent (1,344
Western Australia had the second highest proportion of Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander prisoners with 38 per cent (2,113 prisoners), followed by
Queensland (31.5 per cent, 2,306 prisoners) and then New South Wales (24.1 per
cent, 2,864 prisoners).
Nature of offences
The most common offence or charge for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander prisoners were in custody were acts intended to cause injury (33 per
cent or 3,309 prisoners) followed by unlawful entry with intent (15 per cent of
1,506 prisoners). The most common offence or charge for the non-Indigenous
prisoner population was illicit drug offences (17 per cent or 4,453 prisoners)
and acts intended to cause injury (17 per cent or 4,333 prisoners).
Acts intended to cause injury was the most common offence or charge for
both male and female Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners (34 per
cent for males and 31 per cent for females), followed by unlawful entry with
intent (15 per cent for males and 14 per cent for females).
In terms of reoffending behaviour, just over three quarters of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners (77 per cent) had been
imprisoned under sentence previously, compared to half of non-Indigenous
prisoners (50 per cent).
Length of sentences
In terms of sentenced prisoners, at 30 June 2015, the median aggregate
sentence length for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners was two
years, compared with three and a half years for non-Indigenous prisoners. The
median expected time to serve for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
prisoners was 1.2 years, compared with 2.1 years for non-Indigenous prisoners.
For unsentenced prisoners, at 30 June 2015, the Australian Bureau of
The median time spent on remand by Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander unsentenced prisoners was 2.2 months, compared to 3.0 months for
non-Indigenous unsentenced prisoners.
Mr Mick Gooda, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner, made the following observations on the sentence lengths for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people:
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, particularly
women, tend to be serving shorter sentences than non-Indigenous prisoners,
indicating that sentences of imprisonment are being imposed on Indigenous
people for more minor offences.
The UNSW Law Society also referred to some research on the sentences
received by Indigenous women:
[I]ndigenous women are more likely to receive a custodial
sentence for minor offences compared to other non-Indigenous women in prison.
The types of offences committed by Indigenous women are generally associated
with severe poverty relating to 'non payment of fines, shop lifting, driving
and alcohol related offences.' [I]ndigenous women are twice as likely to be in
custody than non-Indigenous women, with good order offences being their most
serious crime accounting for 54 per cent.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (aged 10-17) are also
overrepresented in the juvenile justice system. The Australian Institute of
Health and Welfare (AIHW) reported that on an average day in 2014-15, there
were 5,600 young people aged 10 and older who were under supervision (either in
their communities or in secure detention facilities) in Australia due to their
involvement or alleged involvement in crime:
Although less than 6% of young people aged 10-17 in Australia
are Indigenous, more than 2 in 5 (43%) young people under supervision on an
average day in 2014-15 were Indigenous. This proportion was higher in
detention, where more than half (54%) were Indigenous.
In terms of the rate of Indigenous young people under supervision, the
In 2014-15, the rate of Indigenous young people aged 10-17
under supervision on an average day was 180 per 10,000 compared with 12 per
10,000 for non-Indigenous young people. Indigenous young people were therefore
about 15 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be under supervision
on an average day.
In Western Australia, an Indigenous young person was 27 times as likely
as a non-Indigenous young person be under supervision on an average day. In the
Northern Territory an Indigenous young person was 17 times as likely as a
non-Indigenous young person to be under supervision on an average day and in
Queensland an Indigenous young person was 16 times as likely.
Looking at the rates of imprisonment of youth in unsentenced and
sentenced detention, the AIWH stated that Indigenous youth were 28 times more
likely to be in sentenced detention, and 25 times more likely to be in
unsentenced detention in the June 2015 quarter.
In terms of comparison by age and gender:
On average, Indigenous young people under supervision were
younger than non-Indigenous people. This was the case for both males and
females. In 2014-15, about half (49%) of all Indigenous young people under
supervision on an average day were aged 10-15, compared with almost one-third
(32%) of non-Indigenous young people.
Similar proportions of Indigenous and non-Indigenous young
people under supervision were male (80% and 83%, respectively).
The adequacy of statistical information
In relation to the adequacy of statistical information and data
collected and made available by the various levels of government in relation to
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice issues, Mr Gooda observed:
There is a substantial amount of data available which tells
us that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are represented
disproportionately as offenders and victims in the criminal justice system.
However, the many gaps in research and data mean that we do not have all the
information needed to know what works from a policy perspective.
Witnesses and submissions identified a range of data gaps in relation to
the statistical information currently collected. For example, Mr Nick Parmeter,
Executive Policy Lawyer, Law Council of Australia, commented:
Currently, we do not have reliable or consistent figures on
the number of times unique individuals enter or leave the corrections system in
a given year, or aggregate numbers of the receptions and releases. The absence
of flow data means that the true state of imprisonment may be significantly
worse than we currently believe to be the case.
Professor Julie Stubbs of the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project,
Data on the involvement of Indigenous women in the criminal
justice system is limited, since criminal justice sources typically report with
respect to women or Indigenous people, but not Indigenous women per se. Data is
particularly poor concerning police and prosecutorial practices, which underpin
Submissions identified the issue of determining Indigenous status as a
fundamental flaw in data collection processes. Researchers from the Australian
Institute of Criminology commented specifically on this issue in relation to
collecting data on deaths in custody:
An ongoing issue in maintaining deaths in custody data, and
other criminal justice data more generally, is the determination of an
individual's Indigenous status. The manner in which Indigenous status is
determined varies between different states and territories and sometimes between
agencies within a state or territory. While most agencies use self-reporting of
Indigenous status based on a standard question developed by the Australian
Bureau of Statistics ('ABS'), others rely on an officer's educated, but still
subjective judgment of physical appearance.
The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services
(NATSILS) also identified the recording of Indigenous status as an issue in
relation to data collection:
NATSILS notes with concern that Victoria still records the
ethnicity of offenders and victims by "racial appearance" which means
the ethnic identification of a person in the subjective opinion of the
attending police officer. In the offending statistics provided by Victoria, by
far the greatest number of recorded ethnicities is ‘unspecified’. For example,
in 2013/2014 the total number of assaults proceeded against 'Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people' was 1,599.59 The total number of assaults proceeded
against by people of 'unspecified' racial ethnicity was 6,732.60 It is
submitted that this is likely to indicate that police find categorising people
based on perceived ethnicity problematic, which indeed it is for very obvious
reasons. It also means that Victoria's statistics are invalid in this regard.
NATSILS, among others, also highlighted the need for data to be
disaggregated in other ways:
NATSILS is also concerned about the paucity of data of people
with mental illnesses, disabilities and cognitive impairments in the justice
system. Despite the high prevalence of disability it remains an untold story
not only in justice, but in all other areas that determine social outcomes for
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people such as education, employment and
housing. The absence of available data makes evaluation and policy on this very
crucial issue difficult.
Western Australia, Victoria, Tasmania and Australian Capital
Territory record more consistent and detailed data relating to Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander people. This will help to inform measured, evidenced based
policy on criminal justice issues.
Mr Gooda also commented on the gaps in data collection in this area:
One of the critical gaps in our knowledge of the justice
system is regarding people with cognitive impairment. We know that people with
cognitive impairment are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with such disabilities are
particularly over-represented.' However, we do not know specifically how many
people in Australian prisons have intellectual disabilities or cognitive
Aside from the issue of recording Indigenous status, submissions
referred to other specific gaps in relation to the statistical information
relating to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander justice issues. Mr Gooda
identified deficiencies in data collection including:
a need for culturally appropriate data collection;
more reliable information on the effectiveness of diversion
programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders.
Data collection in Western
Some submissions particularly criticised the collection of data in
Western Australia. Western Australia Council of Social Services (WACOSS) and
Amnesty International were both highly critical of the Western Australian
Department of Corrective Services' data collection and provision of statistical
information. In its submission Amnesty International provided the following
summary of its concerns:
The Western Australian Government has failed to collect and
make available relevant disaggregated statistical data to allow for such
analysis within the justice sector or by those who wish to monitor and offer
potential solutions from outside government.
Amnesty International encountered considerable difficulties
in obtaining disaggregated statistical data about the experience of Aboriginal
young people in the Western Australian youth justice system. This is due to
gaps in disaggregated data available publicly; standard data not having been
provided to national studies on youth justice; and incomplete information being
provided in response to Amnesty International's requests for data and
A representative of the Department of Corrective Services
told Amnesty International that problems with data were currently affecting
their own capacity to plan for programs. As the state with the highest rate of
over-representation of Aboriginal young people in detention, Western Australian
must improve its collection and dissemination of disaggregated data in order to
adequately understand where the system is failing Aboriginal young people.
Amnesty International continued:
The situation has further deteriorated recently. Weekly
statistics and monthly graphical reports about the number of young people in
detention, previously published by the Department of Corrective Services, have
not been provided since June 2014. The 2013–14 annual report of the Department
of Corrective Services deviates from the format used in previous years and
provides less information that is disaggregated by Indigenous status (for
example relating to the referral to Juvenile Justice Teams).
The Aboriginal Family Law Services (WA) also commented on data
collection in WA:
Data related to the prevalence and impact of any policy
related to Aboriginal people in WA to date tends to be piecemeal and is not
evidence based. This has resulted in unreliable data that does not clearly
state the issues that impact on Aboriginal communities. Therefore, strategies
being developed to address issues impacting on Aboriginal people at best can only
be tentative and exploratory in nature. There is an urgent need for all
organizations working in the Aboriginal arena, be they government or
non-government to collect accurate data related to any programs and services
provided in order to determine strategies to be employed.
Deficiencies in the Juvenile
Justice National Minimum Data Set
Amnesty International also commented on the deficiencies in the Juvenile
Justice National Minimum Data Set (JJ NMDS). The JJ NMDS is a joint project
between the Australian Juvenile Justice administrators and the Australian
Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). The AIHW website explains further:
In Australia, the states and territories are responsible for
juvenile justice and there is marked diversity in terms of legislation, policy
and practices among jurisdictions. The JJ NMDS provides nationally consistent
data on young people's experience of juvenile justice supervision, both in the
community and in detention
The first report containing data from the JJ NMDS was
released in February 2006 and covered 2000–01 to 2003–04. Annual reports have
subsequently been published[.]
Amnesty International noted:
There are inconsistencies and gaps between states and
territories in data relating to contact with the youth justice system. The
Juvenile Justice National Minimum Data Set (JJ NMDS) is a valuable dataset but
does not include state and territory data on police diversions, nor does it incorporate
data on arrests or unsupervised court orders. The data is also not linked to information
on adult contact with the justice system, so it is difficult to track rates of
recidivism as a longer term trend through entry of young people into the adult
Disappointingly neither the Western Australian nor Northern
Territory governments – with the highest rates of Indigenous youth
over-representation in detention in the country – have provided standard data
to the JJ NMDS since 2008–09.
In its submission, the AIHW noted that Western Australia recently
committed to the provision of JJ NMDS in future collections. Further, in
2013-14, AIHW included non-standard data supplied by Western Australian and the
Northern Territory in annual reporting, where possible.
At the public hearing in Perth, Ms Tammy Solonec, Indigenous Rights
Manager, Amnesty International, stated that the solution goes further than
Western Australia and Northern Territory contributing to the JJ NMDS:
But, even if they did contribute, that dataset only collects
the data for children in custody—the corrective services data. What we really
need is an integrated form of data that also brings in the police data so we
can determine what type of offending they are doing and really address the
underlying causal factors. That is our best recommendation to the government as
to how to target diversion and give judges options: to really get the data
right in the first place.
AIHW noted that information from the JJ NMDS may be enhanced through
data linkage, which can be a cost-effective way of improving or developing new
Some linkage projects with the JJ NMDS data have been
undertaken, allowing for analysis of young people who access multiple community
In addition to the JJ NMDS national and jurisdictional data
sets, which contain data on service-provision programs and may be suitable for
data linkage include child care, education, homelessness, housing, health
services and disability services.
Role of the Commonwealth
Ms Solonec emphasised the importance of integrating corrective services
data and police data and the role of the Commonwealth Government:
We actually need that integration to occur. That is something
we are seeking. We have been working with the Department of Corrective Services
and the WA police. It looks like the WA government, in particular, is quite far
off having an integrated system of data. But we think that the federal
government is in a fantastic position to exercise its leadership to ensure that
the Northern Territory and Western Australia comply with these data requests
and to actually push all of the states and territories to integrate their data
so that, as well as collecting the data from corrective services, we are
collecting the data from police. We think that if we were able to get that
data, especially in a national standardised format, we could start to really
get a good picture of what is happening and really address the underlying
causal factors in a strategic way, which is not happening at the moment.
At the public hearing in Canberra, Ms Esther Bogaart, Director, Legal Assistance
and Women's Safety Section, Attorney-General's Department (AGD), noted the
Commonwealth has taken a role in developing a national data set manual for the
legal assistance sector. Ms Bogaart confirmed that this manual only applied to
the provision of legal services by legal assistance services.
In relation to the collection of data on incarceration rates, Ms Bogaart
indicated that she was aware that the Australian Bureau of Statistics 'has done
some work on consistent data collection in the criminal justice space'.
The committee pressed officers from AGD to identify which department or
government body should have ownership of this issue to ensure that there is
consistent and standardised data about incarceration rates. Ms Elizabeth
Quinn, Assistant Secretary, Legal Assistance Branch, AGD, stated:
I am unclear that there would be a single, logical owner. I
understand that ideally you would look to the Commonwealth when eight
jurisdictions are doing things differently. I am not sure in the space that we
are talking about that there is a logical Commonwealth lead on it, but
obviously the Commonwealth has an extremely strong vested interest in the
ultimate outcome—which is justice as a whole and Indigenous justice as a key
issue. I would think that where we are headed in the data standardisation work
[in relation to the provision of legal services], that that becomes the obvious
next step that we would be looking—I do not want to say 'leading' because the
endgame that you are talking about may be beyond our grasp—but our liaison is
with the departments of justice in each state and territory. I think that is an
important link, and their being at the table for this sort of data
Ms Quinn subsequently advised that the Council of Australian Governments
(COAG) Law, Crime and Community Safety Council (LCCSC) would be an appropriate
forum for the discussion and negotiation on the standardisation and collection
AGD provided the following information about the LCCSC and its agenda:
The [LCCSC] agenda is comprised of issues identified and
sponsored by members. The [LCCSC] consists of ministers with responsibility for
law and justice, police and emergency management. Each Australian state and
territory, the Australian Government and New Zealand Government is represented
by a maximum of two ministers.
A LCCSC member would need to sponsor an item for it to be
listed on the agenda.
In 2008, COAG agreed to six targets to address the disadvantage faced by
Indigenous Australians. The targets were:
close the gap in life expectancy within a generation (by 2031);
halve the gap in mortality rates for Indigenous children under
five by 2018;
ensure access to early childhood education for all Indigenous
four year olds in remote communities by 2013;
halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for
children by 2018;
halve the gap for Indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent)
attainment rates by 2020; and
halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and other
Australians by 2018.
Since the introduction of these Closing the Gap targets, there has been
ongoing support to include a target to address the overrepresentation of
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as both offenders and victims in
the criminal justice system, referred to as a 'justice target', in these
In 2009, the then Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice
Commissioner, Dr Tom Calma AO, stated that the 'emphasis on health, education
and employment all speak to a vision of strong Indigenous communities'.
However, Dr Calma continued:
[I]t is a serious omission that no formal targets were set at
that point to close the gap in imprisonment rates...
The problem is...that you will not be able to meet these [health,
education and employment] targets if you continue to have such a high
proportion of the Indigenous population caught up in the criminal justice
system because imprisonment compounds individual and community disadvantage.
While Dr Calma was of the view that the Closing the Gap targets in
themselves would lead to an improvement in life changes and, consequently, a
reduction in imprisonment rates, he noted 'this could take a generation at the
very least [and for] this reason, specific justice targets are needed now'.
In June 2011, the House of Representatives Standing Committee on
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in its report Doing Time –
Time for Doing, noted that the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General
(SCAG) were working on justice targets for possible inclusion in the Closing
the Gap strategy and recommended:
[T]hat the Commonwealth Government endorse justice targets
developed by [SCAG] for inclusion in the Council of Australian Governments'
Closing the Gap strategy. These targets should then be monitored and reported
In July 2011 SCAG met and Ministers discussed the unacceptable rates of
incarceration of Indigenous Australians and referred to the House of
Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
Affairs Committee's report and recommendations. SCAG agreed to the following:
- to significantly reduce the gap in Indigenous offending
and victimisation and to accurately track and review progress with a view to
reviewing the level of effort required to achieve outcomes [and]
- to ask First Ministers to refer to COAG the possible
adoption of justice specific Indigenous closing the gap targets, acknowledging
that in many instances their relative occurrence are due to variable factors
outside the justice system.
In June 2013, the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References
Committee, in its report on the Value of a justice reinvestment approach to
criminal justice in Australia, noted SCAG's agreement of July 2011 and
[T]he Commonwealth Government refer to [COAG] the
establishment of justice targets for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people as part of the Closing the Gap initiative, directed to reducing the
imprisonment rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
In August 2013, the then Minister for Indigenous Affairs, the Hon Jenny
Macklin MP, announced that the Australian Labor Party was committed to
developing three new targets for inclusion in the Closing the Gap Strategy,
including a justice target:
The new [justice] target will help to focus national effort
to address high rates of offending and victimisation in Indigenous communities.
The target will be developed through a reference group of key
Indigenous stakeholders, and in discussions with state and territory
The then Shadow Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Senator the Hon Nigel
Scullion, indicated that the Coalition would provide bipartisan support for the
proposed new Closing the Gap justice target. Despite offering support for the
new target, Senator Scullion cautioned:
I am worried if we get too many targets they will lose their
impact and then we could lose focus.
Despite this bipartisan commitment prior to the last federal election,
there has been no progress in this policy area. In the Social Justice and
Native Title Report 2014, Mr Mick Gooda, the current Aboriginal and Torres
Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner included the response from Senator
Scullion, who is now the Minister for Indigenous Affairs, on the reasons why
justice-related targets have not been developed:
- The Government considered the
inclusion of additional targets in the Closing the Gap framework, including a
justice-related target. The Council of Australian Governments agreed to a new
target on school attendance at its meeting in May this year.
- The Government does not support the development of more targets than have
already been agreed at this time. It considers that the adoption of too many targets may result in a loss of impact
and focus for the existing targets.
- The Government is focused on
making a practical difference on the ground to the lives of Indigenous
Australians. Getting children to school and adults to work is the most
effective approach to improving community safety and reducing incarceration.
- The Government will seek to engage
with State and Territory governments, Indigenous communities and other
stakeholders about what else can be done to achieve better justice-related
At the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee's
estimates hearing in February 2016, Minister Scullion further explained the
reasons that the Government does not support a justice target as part of the
Closing the Gap targets:
I think there is a very valid reason for having a target in
the justice area, and it is exemplified by the excellent work that the Northern
Territory is doing. The Northern Territory government has a justice target—an
incarceration justice target. It also has a victim target. I think it is quite
a sophisticated way of having the approach. Why should it have that and not [the
Commonwealth]? We have absolutely no control. We are not a part of the justice
system. The courts are controlled at that level. All of those things are
controlled at that level. We can have activities in that area.
Under COAG, I think the Northern Territory government's
having the target is the place where those targets should be. It is foolish to
say, 'Well, the Commonwealth should adopt a target. Let's have another target.'
And then we would all have a bit of a lunch break. That is it. Everyone is
happy. They have called for a target. We have said we will have a target. But
it is a nonsense if we are saying, 'We're going to go and do that,' yet we have
absolutely no responsibility. We have no legislative process; we have nothing.
That is not to say that we cannot do what we are doing now and have a much
better working relationship with the states and territories to do whatever we
can within our purview, such as ensure we are moving our employment processes
towards the jails, and to ensure that we are using world-best practice, that
franchised approach to what the states and territories are doing.
Certainly, through this COAG in the next round, as the Prime
Minister indicates, we need to ensure that those people have the levers have
the targets, but we need to be working very closely with them to ensure that
whatever the Commonwealth can contribute in this regard we will. It is not
about targets being a problem; it is about who owns the targets. We have no
levers. The states and territories have them all. The Northern Territory
government is an exemplar in this area, and we should ensure that the remainder
of the jurisdictions who have these levers adopt the targets in the same way as
their partner in COAG the Northern Territory has done.
Minister Scullion concluded:
Wherever the Commonwealth government can assist, we will. But
it is silly to start saying we will give ourselves a target. That undermines
the credibility of Closing the Gap. It undermines the credibility of proper
targets that we should be held to account for. Of course we will continue to
work with the various jurisdictions to provide the very best outcomes in all
areas of outcomes for our first Australians.
Support for justice targets
In his submission, Mr Gooda referred to the Social Justice and Native
Title Report 2014, in which he had outlined the case for targets as a
performance measurement tool in public policy:
Targets encourage policy makers to focus on outputs and
outcomes, rather than just inputs. It is not enough for governments to continue
to report on what they do and spend, especially if that appears to be making
little positive difference. Targets move us towards accountability and ensure
that tax payer's money is being spent in a results-focused way.
Mr Gooda explained that it is not targets in the Closing the Gap
strategy in and of themselves which lead to changes:
[B]ut the enhanced level of cooperation at the Council of
Australian Governments level and targeted increases in funding. However,
without the [Closing the Gap] targets in place to guide this work, and a
mechanism whereby the Prime Minister annually reports to Parliament against
these targets, there is a real risk that our progress would stall.
[The Closing the Gap targets] have made the gap between
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and non-Indigenous
Australians visible. This is exactly what needs to happen on the issue of
overrepresentation with the criminal justice system as victims and offenders. I
would argue that most Australians know little about this problem, but many
would be alarmed at the statistics. Raising the profile of the issue through
targets can help build sustained pressure for improvement.
Mr Gooda strongly urged a return to the pre-election commitment to
develop justice targets.
Other submissions also argued for the inclusion of a justice target in the
Closing the Gap strategy. For example, Public Interest Advocacy Centre argued:
The current targets in the Closing the Gap framework relate
to life expectancy, child mortality, education and employment. The exclusion of
justice targets ignores an important indicator of improvement in the current
target areas. It also ignores the fact that the disadvantage experienced by
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is multi-layered. For example, for
an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young person, reaching a higher level
of education, which will impact on whether that young person undertakes university
studies and employment, both of which are factors which have been shown to
reduce the likelihood he will end up in the criminal justice system. Excluding
justice targets is to leave out a significant chunk of policy that must relate
to and interact with other policies seeking to address Aboriginal disadvantage.
The National Association of Community Legal Centres (NACLC) stated:
NACLC considers that justice targets are a vital tool in
attempts to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander people in the criminal justice system and would facilitate measurement
of government initiatives against clear targets. The inclusion of a justice
target in the Closing the Gap would also strengthen and support the necessary
commitment to justice reinvestment strategies.
The Indigenous Legal Needs Project submitted:
[J]ustice targets provide benefit by establishing a clear
focus and a greater degree of accountability for governments and the work they
are undertaking in a justice context. Developing specific justice targets
provides measurable outcomes towards which government and others can work in
attempting to reduce Indigenous contact with the justice system. Any system of
targets must also, however, incorporate relevant civil and family law-related
targets, including given the link the ILNP has identified between Indigenous
over-representation and unmet need in these areas.
National Justice Coalition cautioned that '[j]ustice targets alone will
not solve the problem of over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people in the justice system'.
[Justice targets] are a crucial starting point and tool to
drive coordinated action and significant policy focus in this area.
Additionally, the implementation of justice targets would provide an important
accountability mechanism, raising the profile of the issue which in turn would
lead to sustained pressure for improvement.
NATSILS indicated it had continuously advocated for the introduction of
In terms of the development of justice targets NATSILS noted:
In order for justice targets to be meaningful they will need
broad-based buy in from key Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
organisations. This should be accompanied by a detailed plan as to how such
targets will be achieved. ...NATSILS believes that this plan should embrace the
principles and initiatives of justice reinvestment. This approach should entail
partnering closely with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations
(such as NATSILS), in order to incorporate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
people as part of the solution to their negative contact with the justice
The National Justice Coalition recommended that justice targets be aimed
at reducing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration rates and
creating safer communities, through reduced rates of violence against
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The National Justice Coalition
recommended that justice targets be established which seek to both:
- Close the gap in rates of imprisonment by 2040; and
Cut the disproportionate rates of violence to at least close the gap by
2040 with priority strategies for women and children.
Amnesty International supported these dual targets which include both
reduced victimisation and reduced incarceration:
[Dual targets] would ensure a focus on outcomes that
ultimately improve community safety while also recognising the reality that
there is significant overlap between Indigenous offenders and victims of crime.
Navigation: Previous Page | Contents | Next Page