National

Vic Indigenous incarceration rate surges

By AAP Newswire

Victoria is going backwards when it comes to keeping Indigenous people out of jail, with incarceration rates more than doubling over the past decade.

Statistics released by the Sentencing Advisory Council on Tuesday showed the state's imprisonment rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults more than doubled between 2009 and 2019, from 839.4 to 2,267.7 people per 100,000.

Meanwhile, the imprisonment rate for all Victorians rose from 104.9 to 157.1 people per 100,000 over the same period.

Victoria also put young Indigenous people, aged between 10 and 17, behind bars at 10 times the rate of non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service has called for an overhaul of how Indigenous offenders are dealt with by the courts.

"This is a grim figure to come to terms with, particularly against the backdrop of such widespread support across Australia for the Black Lives Matter movement, and ending Aboriginal deaths in custody," chief executive Nerita Waight told AAP.

Ms Waight wants Aboriginal self-determination embedded in the Sentencing Act and the expansion of the current Koori Court system.

The Koori Court deals with Aboriginal people who plead guilty to lesser crimes in the state's magistrates courts. Community elders have input into culturally appropriate punishments.

But the specialist court division should have more discretion to place Aboriginal offenders into culturally appropriate diversion programs, allowing them to avoid a criminal conviction, Ms Wraight said.

Criminology lecturer and Tharawal and Yorta Yorta woman Robyn Oxley backed the call to expand the Koori Court. She said it should be available for those who plead not guilty as well.

"That whole relationship is 'I'm Koori, I want it'. But hang on, you may not have actually committed the crime," the University of Western Sydney lecturer said.

She also backed calls by the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service for the scrapping of mandatory sentencing laws because they disproportionately targeted Indigenous offenders.

Ms Oxley described it as "heartbreaking" to see so little progress on Indigenous incarceration after so much talk, describing the situation as "same s***, different bucket".

She said locking up Aboriginal youths simply paved the way for them to graduate into adult custody.

"There's definitely tokenistic measures here. Victoria claims to be the progressive state and in reality they're not, they're absolutely not," Ms Oxley said.

"Aboriginal don't need fixing, it's the system that's broken.

"Sometimes you wonder how much fight have you got left in you. But we've got to keep going.

"We cannot continue like this. We'll have no future."

A Victorian government spokesperson said the over representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system across the country was unacceptable and fixing it was a priority of the national cabinet.

They also pointed to the creation of Victoria's First Peoples' Assembly to lay the groundwork for a treaty between Aboriginals nations and the state government.