The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO says the criminal justice system in Australia is in crisis.
Commissioner Oscar spoke at the Empowering Women, Changing Lives annual event in Sydney today, hosted by the Hon Catherine Cusack MLC and the Keeping Women out of Prison Coalition.
Commissioner Oscar said the prison population is skyrocketing and that Australian’s should all be questioning what has happened to our national social supports, for incarceration to become so dominant in our lives.
“We spend an estimated $16 billion a year on our criminal justice system. The lack of rehabilitation programs and training programs on the inside, limited diversionary options, and barely any supports to reintegrate into society means that we are failing the justice systems reform agenda.
“From 1997 to 2017 there has been a 133% increase in Australia’s prison population, with Indigenous Australians hugely over-represented.
“Indigenous women make up 2% of Australia’s female population and yet we are 34% of the women behind bars. The system is broken.”
Commissioner Oscar said she has heard directly from women in prison, through the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project, that they are not getting access to the programs they need.
She said there is a desperate need for investment in community diversionary options to provide an alternative to short custodial sentences.
Commissioner Oscar said the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathway to Justice report outlined several Indigenous specific diversionary options such as Justice Reinvestment, and models that provide for flexible and culturally appropriate sentences like the Koori Courts in Victoria and New South Wales and the Victorian Community Correction order regime.
“To make these options real we need the concerted effort of all governments to translate the on the ground evidence into policy, backed by an implementation plan, serious budget allocation, and to set justice targets for all jurisdictions.
“There is no better place to address inequality and rectify injustice than with a radical reform of the justice system for all women, but in particular for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.
“Women are not a justice issue. They are the integral threads of a healthy nation, and our governments must invest in our communities to reflect this," Commissioner Oscar said.
Commissioner Oscar’s full speech to the Empowering Women, Changing Lives annual breakfast is here