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Date: Mon, 11 Sep 1995 15:42:39 -0400
Sender: Progressive News & Views List <PNEWS-L@SJUVM.STJOHNS.EDU>
Subject: Discrimination against Aborigines From: the guardian <guardian@peg.apc.org>
Subject: Discrimination against Aborigines

Discrimination against Aborigines

From The Guadrian
(Socialist Party of Australia)
23 August 1995

A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) on the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia's prison system and in police custody, says that fundamental social and economic inequality suffered by indigenous people must be ended for their over-representation in custody to also cease.

Using the latest available figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the report shows a hugely disproportionate number of indigenous people -- compared to the rest of the population -- continue to be incarcerated, and that the number is rising. The report comes at a time of increased deaths in custody of indigenous people, with 10 deaths so far this year.

The report, by former AIC Senior Criminologist, John Walker, and the current Senior Criminologist, David McDonald, makes the connections between unemployment, homelessness and institutionalised racism with high indigenous custody rates.

They found that police adopt arrest and detention procedures rather than summonsing or issuing cautions, which plays a part in the increased numbers of indigenous youth in custody.

In 1992 indigenous people were held in police cells at a rate over 26 times that of non-indigenous people, says the report. Indigenous women were especially heavily over-represented -- 44 per cent of incarcerated women -- but being only 1.1 per cent of the national female population aged 15 years or more.

Also, where suspected offenders lacked community ties, such as home ownership or a regular job, they are more likely to end up in police custody. According to the 1991 Census, indigenous people were 2.5 times more likely to live in rented accommodation, 14 more times likely to live in impoverished dwellings and almost three times more likely to be unemployed.

The report concludes from data available that indigenous people are also not only over-represented in minor offences, as is often suggested, but in almost all types of offences.

In raising the question of economic well-being, the report says "the pursuit of economic self-determination for indigenous people will greatly assist in solving the crime problems in indigenous communities and the palpable inequities in rates of imprisonment".

It goes on to emphasise the double discrimination faced by indigenous people. Non-indigenous people in custody who were employed at the time they were imprisoned would have had their chances of being imprisoned increased 29 times had they been unemployed.

"As indigenous people have a much greater chance of being unemployed, the potential for reducing indigenous imprisonment by addressing unemployment and its causes is considerable."

Education is a factor. People who are both indigenous and early school leavers are 130 times more likely to be in prison.

"Again, the potential for improving employment prospects through improved educational attainment could also have significant impact on imprisonment rates."

While the report acknowledges that the disadvantages faced by indigenous people go far beyond lack of educational and employment opportunities, it concludes that "the principle causal factor of indigenous over-representation in prison is the generally low status of the indigenous community in Australia, both in socioeconomic terms and in terms of patterns of discrimination".

The Guardian
Phone: (02) 212.6855
65 Campbell Street
Fax: (02) 281.5795
Surry Hills. 2010

Published in "The Guardian" newspaper of the Socialist Party of Australia in its issue of August 23, 1995. It may be republished with acknowledgement.