Labor promises 'justice reinvestment' to reduce number of Indigenous prisoners

Bill Shorten says reducing ‘shocking’ rate of Indigenous incarceration is key to closing the gap in health and other targets for Indigenous Australians

Bill Shorten says a Labor government will pursue the idea of “justice reinvestment” to reduce “shocking” rates of Indigenous incarceration by moving government funding from prisons to diversionary programs.

The Labor leader used a speech to the Melbourne University law faculty to repeat the party’s 2013 promise that if elected it will use his first meeting with state premiers to set national targets to reduce Indigenous incarceration, saying that goal is essential to meeting all the other national “closing the gap” targets.

Shorten cited statistics to back his concerns: a young Indigenous man is more likely to go to jail than university and an Indigenous adult is 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than a non-Indigenous adult.

He used more statistics to illustrate that the problem was getting worse, imprisonment rates have more than doubled in the past decade and for Aboriginal women, the rate of imprisonment has increased by 74% in the past 15 years. Aboriginal children are 24 more times more likely to be in jail.

“There are far too many people in prison with poorly-understood disabilities, particularly cognitive and mental disabilities. We cannot tolerate a system that just processes people, rather than a system that fairly administers justice,” he said.

“It is devastating that jail is seen as a rite of passage for many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, part of the natural order of things.”

He said a Labor government would fund three trials – in a city, a regional town and a remote community – of “justice reinvestment” programs, “redirecting funds spent on justice system to prevention and diversionary programs to address underlying causes of offending with disproportionately high levels of incarceration”.

One would be in Bourke, where a community faced with skyrocketing crime rates is already trying to implement the approach.

“This is not about being ‘soft’ on crime, or giving offenders a free pass,” Shorten said.

Source: The Guardian Australia