According to data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (for the March 2016 period) there were a total of 37,996 full time prisoners in custody. This was an increase of 887 prisoners from the December 2015 quarter and 2,529 from the March quarter. For the same March 2016 period there were 63,035 people serving community-based corrections orders (those with some form of restrictive movement, required to undertake community service or with supervision orders etc.). The Northern Territory had the highest average daily prison rate of 958 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, while Tasmania had the lowest at 132 prisoners per 100,000.
There were 10,558 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in custody with that cohort representing 28% of the total full time adult prisoner population. Western Australia, New South Wales and Queensland represented nearly three quarters of Indigenous people held in custody. There were 3,025 Indigenous people held in custody in the Northern Territory at the reporting period.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), between 2002 and 2012, imprisonment rates for Aboriginal Australians increased from 1,262 to 1,914 Aboriginal prisoners per 100,000 adult Aboriginal population. In comparison, the rate for non-Aboriginal prisoners increased from 123 to 129 per 100,000 adult non-Aboriginal population. A parliamentary report in 2010 found the rate of Aboriginal people jailed per 100,000 people in Western Australia was 2,483, while the figure for African Americans in the United States is 2,290 . In March 2009 Western Australia’s rate was 3,741.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s December 2015 report on Youth Detention states that across the country, 54 per cent of juvenile detainees between the ages of 10 and 17 are of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent.
On an average night in Australia, 34 in every 10,000 Indigenous young people are in prison, compared to just 1.3 per 10,000 non-Indigenous young people.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth are currently 26 times more likely to be detained than their non-Indigenous counterparts.
This trend is not new: Nationwide, Indigenous young people have consistently outnumbered non-Indigenous youth in every quarterly survey since March 2013.
The picture is even more stark in the Northern Territory where 97 per cent of youth detainees are Indigenous according to the 2015 Northern Territory Youth Detention System report.
The paper's author, Michael Vita of NSW Juvenile Justice, reports, “Indigenous offenders are more likely to commit their first offence at a younger age than non-Indigenous offenders, and are more likely to have been charged multiple times.”
“Indigenous youth are more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous youth, and they are being placed into detention for more serious crimes, such as acts intending to cause injury,” he continues.
The statistics also reflect that young people between the ages of 15 to 16 are most likely to be apprehended and that the number of people under 15 years being detained is increasing.
Mr Vita also expresses, “many young people in the youth justice system come from homes where poverty, alcohol abuse, violence and dysfunctional relationships are the norm.
“These are young people in greatest need and the ones who are likely to require a higher level of intervention and case management.”
He argues that the underlying causes for these young people’s offences need to be recognised and addressed.
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