Aboriginal Victorians now more than 16 times more likely to be imprisoned than the general population
Aboriginal people in Victoria are now imprisoned at a rate of more than 16 times the general population according to recent data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
While the general population was imprisoned in the March 2020 quarter at a rate of 157.3 people per 100,000, the state’s Aboriginal population was imprisoned at a rate of 2383.8 per 100,000.
In what is believed to be a first, the disparity in incarceration rates between the Aboriginal population and the general population in Victoria was the worst that was recorded by any state or territory in Australia over that period.
And in March 2020 it was still 15 times higher. This is driven by recent changes to Victoria's bail laws making it harder for disadvantaged groups to get bail, when charged. After weeks in jail on remand, around half of Aboriginal prisoners are discharged unsentenced. #SpringSt— Tim Read (@TimRRead) July 29, 2020
Victoria’s prison population has grown rapidly since the Andrews Government changed the state’s bail laws prior to the last election, greatly increasing the number of unsentenced people on remand for low-level offending.
Perversely, the toughening of rules has not focused on the level of risk to public safety in granting bail, but other “compelling” factors such as a person’s access to stable housing, meaning that the most vulnerable groups including Aboriginal people, women and those experiencing homelessness are disproportionately being locked up.
80% of Aboriginal women in prisons are mothers. Incarcerating women can lead to the entry of children into the child protection system, which we know more often then not leads to children engaging with the justice system. @rightsagenda #HumanRights #childrensrights #WomensRights— Nerita Waight (@IndigenousX) July 28, 2020
The Victorian Greens have called on the Andrews Government to urgently reform the state’s punitive bail laws to help end the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal people in our jails, and to instead invest in treating the causes of low-level offending.
Victorian Greens spokesperson for justice, Dr Tim Read, said if the government wouldn’t act to ensure minor offenders aren’t being imprisoned before trial, the Greens would.
In response to a recent parliamentary question on notice from Dr Read, the government revealed that 39 per cent of Victorian prisoners were eventually being released from prison having served no time under sentence. For Aboriginal men this figure is 46 per cent and for Aboriginal women it’s an astonishing 61 per cent.
Many of them would have been unlikely to receive a prison sentence at all if they were bailed.
Quotes attributable to Victorian Greens spokesperson for justice, Tim Read MP:
“In the five short years the Andrews Government has been in power, Aboriginal Victorians have gone from being 12 times more likely to be incarcerated to 16 times more likely.
“These statistics are shameful and are a direct result of our state’s outdated bail laws which repeatedly see Aboriginal Victorians getting jail instead of bail, regardless of how minor their offence is.
“Unless the Andrews Government addresses the bail laws now, Victoria’s enduring legacy will be one of over-imprisonment and racial inequality.”
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