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Avoid latest fad: Education and employment key to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rate

Sara Hudson | 31 January 2013

The Senate Inquiry into Justice Reinvestment is a mistake. Although touted as a ‘panacea’ to Indigenous incarceration, Australia must take a cautionary approach to Justice Reinvestment to avoid spending more money to achieve very little, according to a new report from The Centre for Independent Studies.

Rates of Indigenous incarceration are a national disgrace, with Indigenous people accounting for 27% of our prison population, and Indigenous youth accounting for more than 50% of juveniles in detention, says Sara Hudson in Panacea to Prison? Justice Reinvestment in Indigenous Communities.

‘Although some commentators argue that the system is biased against Aboriginal people, non-Indigenous offenders are on average more likely to receive longer jail sentences than Indigenous people,’ says Ms Hudson.

‘Aboriginal people are over-represented in our jails because of high unemployment, with unemployed Indigenous people 20 times more likely to offend and end up in prison than employed Indigenous people. The high rate of unemployment of Aboriginal people – at 35% – must be reduced.’

‘Countless programs including culturally appropriate approaches like Circle Sentencing and Koori courts have failed to address the underlying causes of offending. Crime and incarceration rates will not go down unless we improve education and employment standards for Indigenous people,’ says Ms Hudson.

Originating in the US, Justice Reinvestment seeks to combat causes of offending in communities with high crime rates by redirecting money spent on prisons into programs. Hudson argues that the criminal justice system in Australia is very different to the US and Justice Reinvestment will have little effect on Indigenous incarceration if applied in Australia.

‘Justice Reinvestment will merely recycle preventive and community based programs already in place. It’s a distraction from focusing on the fundamentals such as education and employment,’ Ms Hudson argues.

‘All Australians should have the right to proper education, yet Indigenous Australians continue to receive appalling schooling in remote areas. State and territory governments should not rely on money being diverted from prisons to improve education outcomes.’

Sara Hudson is a Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. She is available for comment.

The CIS Policy Monograph, Panacea to Prison? Justice Reinvestment in Indigenous Communities, released on 31 January, is available at the CIS website.

Sara Hudson discusses the findings of the report in this YouTube video.

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