The Guardian: ‘We should all be furious’: Aboriginal people make up record 31% of adult prison population in NSW

New figures released on Tuesday show that the number of Aboriginal adults and young people in NSW prisons is the highest on record.

In March, the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (Bocsar) reported that the number of Aboriginal adults in prison had hit a record high. Aboriginal adults now make up 31% of the prison population.

“To put that in perspective, in NSW, 3.2% of adults are Aboriginal, and one in 29 Aboriginal men in NSW are currently incarcerated,” said Bocsar executive director Jackie Fitzgerald.

“Alarmingly, NSW is no longer on track to meet its Close the Gap target to reduce the rate of Aboriginal adults in prison.” The goal was to decrease the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in custody by at least 15% by 2031.

Of the 12,456 adults in prison in March, 3,841 were Indigenous. This rise is not limited to adults, Fitzgerald noted.

Aboriginal young people now account for two-thirds (66.4%) of the youth detention population, which is also a new record in NSW. The overwhelming majority of Aboriginal youth in detention are on remand (78.4%), mainly for offenses like break and enter (29.3%) and car theft (22.4%).

“This is a crisis we should all be outraged about,” said Nadine Miles, principal legal officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service.

“The mass incarceration of Aboriginal people in NSW is the direct result of government policies developed without community input, which allow continued discrimination against Aboriginal people in the legal system.” NSW Premier Chris Minns acknowledged the statistics as a “major issue” facing the state.

“We want to work with Capo [the NSW Coalition of Aboriginal Peak Organisations] and other peak Indigenous organisations to reduce the rate of incarceration,” Minns said.

“That means addressing the underlying causes of crime in our communities.”

When asked if the state’s proposed knife-wanding laws would increase the number of Aboriginal people in custody, he said it was “difficult to say” but expressed hope that it would lead to a cultural change.

The NSW Council for Civil Liberties said the new knife and bail proposals were “weak”.

“These laws are a sign of a weak premier, beholden to rightwing shock jocks, who continues to make policy on the run whilst misleading the community by telling them that he can eliminate violent crime by the introduction of these laws. That is simply, untrue,” the council’s president, Lydia Shelly, said.

“The premier has allowed NSW to be transformed into a state where the police will have the extraordinary power to search members of the public without a reason and prison populations will continue to balloon with further presumptions against bail introduced.”


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