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Indigenous children 28 times more likely to b -

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Indigenous children 28 times more likely to be in jail

Meredith Griffiths reported this story on Friday, July 10, 2009 15:43:55

PETER CAVE: Much attention has been focused recently on the gap between Indigenous and
non-Indigenous people when it comes to life expectancy and education. But there's another divide
that shows no sign of closing as well.

Indigenous children are 28 times more likely to be in jail than other young people. The latest
statistics show that while the rates of Indigenous juvenile detention fell in the late 1990s,
they're now on the rise again.

Meredith Griffiths reports.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Indigenous children comprise about 5 per cent of young people in Australia, but
they account for 58 per cent of all people in juvenile detention centres.

Dr Judy Putt is the head of research at the Australian Institute of Criminology.

JUDY PUTT: Research shows that Indigenous young people are more likely to offend at a younger age
and get caught up in the criminal justice system at a younger age. The accumulative affects of that
is they're more likely to end up in a detention centre where they have a significant prior criminal

We also know that Indigenous young people are more likely to have backgrounds, socio-economic
disadvantage being a key factor, that lends itself to getting into trouble and to misuse alcohol
and other substances at an earlier age - all of which mean there are greater risk factors in their
life that would increase the likelihood of them being involved in serious or repeat offending.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: The institute has released a new report saying that between 1994 and 2002 the
rates of detention of Indigenous young people decreased by 32 per cent. It then stabilised, but in
2007 rose again.

James McDougall from the National Children's and Youth Law Centre says the changes between 1994 and
2007 show that Indigenous youth justice fell off the agenda.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: In that first period, that was the period following the Royal Commission into
Aboriginal deaths in custody so there was generally an awareness of the problem and that it needed
to be addressed, and there were measures that were put in place.

Then we pretty much forgot about that sort of stuff, and in terms of youth justice policy, whilst
there were some good things happening there were also some bad things happening. Mandatory
sentencing was starting to kick in, some of the bail amendments were tightening up, and broadly
speaking the question of disadvantage in Indigenous communities was starting to have a real ongoing
generational impact.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Indigenous young people are most likely to be detained for breaking into
properties, theft, stealing vehicles or vandalism. But James McDougall says often people are
detained while their case moves through the courts and then ultimately they don't receive a
custodial sentence.

JAMES MCDOUGALL: A lot of the young people who are offending are effectively homeless. We will
grant them bail but say they have to reside in a particular place. If they don't have a place to
stay then they end up staying in detention.

Now that's obviously something that impacts on Indigenous young people who are going through that
kind of a phase where they don't have secure roots, but that actually happens in the mainstream
community as well.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: James McDougall says politicians aren't interested in solutions that work but
are looking for political quick fixes.

Neil Gillespie from the Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement in South Australia agrees.

NEIL GILLESPIE: Even the United Nations is expressing concern about the over-representation of
Aboriginal people within the justice system including our youth. It's got to do with the attitudes,
not so much the National Government but the State Governments and the State police forces around
the nation in that they've got this law and order attitude that seems to win votes.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: He says the large number of young Indigenous prisoners is due to over-policing
and the gross under funding of Aboriginal legal services, but he stresses that incarceration rates
cannot be uncoupled from social disadvantage.

NEIL GILLESPIE: The cancer that's causing throughout Aboriginal communities, it's fundamental if
the Prime Minister is right, and which I agree, if we can have a look at those causes such as the
entrenched racism that's in Australia, the poor health, the poor education, and homelessness, if
those things are addressed and then there will be less participation of Aboriginal people within
the justice system.

MEREDITH GRIFFITHS: Neil Gillespie says it's essential that the Federal Government seeks the input
of Indigenous people if it really wants to solve the entrenched problems in their communities.

PETER CAVE: Meredith Griffiths reporting.