Horrific First Nations over-incarceration rate in WA must not be forgotten on January 26

Greens spokesperson for Corrective Services Hon Alison Xamon MLC has called on the WA Government to do more to continue to reduce the horrific over-incarceration of First Nations people in Western Australia.

Ms Xamon said while the annual discussion around 26 January is an important one, and she strongly supported the campaign to Change the Date, it was crucial that the broader injustices still facing First Nations people in WA were given higher priority.

She said First Nations people made up 40% of people in WA prisons – despite making up only 3% of the overall population – a horrifying statistic which urgently needed to be addressed.

“Over-incarceration of Aboriginal women is even worse than men as almost half – or 47% - of all women in WA prisons were Aboriginal at 30 September 2020,” Ms Xamon said.

“First Nations women are the fastest growing prison population and are likely to be survivors of family and/or sexual violence – among other types of disadvantage.

“We know that once First Nations people are in prison, they are, through a range of systemic failures and discrimination, 10 times more likely to die in custody than non-indigenous people.”

Ms Xamon said First Nations children and young people were 26 times more likely to be detained than cautioned; – and made up 70% of the population of young people in youth justice detention.

She said WA has the highest rate of incarceration of Aboriginal children and young people in the country.

“At 30 September 2020, there were 83 children in youth justice detention and 57 – or 69% - were First Nations children,” Ms Xamon said.

“According to my questions in Parliament, more than eight out of ten children and young people released from sentences are back behind bars within five years - this is simply unacceptable and is a stark example of how ineffective the current approach is.

“Reducing the number of Aboriginal people in prison must absolutely include a focus on youth justice.”

Ms Xamon said it had now been 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recognised that only addressing underlying issues like unemployment, poverty, poor health and mental health, education attainment, inability to pay fines, substance abuse, discrimination and homelessness, could reduce the over-incarceration of First Nations people.

She said while there had been some progress, such as the establishment of a Custody Notification Service in 2019 and the passing of the Fines, Penalties and Infringement Notices Enforcement Amendment Bill 2019, in 2020, important recommendations had still not been implemented.

“I urge the Government to re-commit to continuing to reduce the rate of First Nations incarceration in WA,” Ms Xamon said.

“It cannot use the pandemic as a reason not to be held to account in this important area.”

Ms Xamon said the Government must look at a range of evidence-based measures to reduce the unacceptably high rate of incarceration of First Nations people in WA.

She said it must work with First Nations people to identify and establish ongoing solutions.

“The implementation of further justice reinvestment projects, like the fantastic Olabud Doogethu now operating in Halls Creek, would be a great place to start,” Ms Xamon said.

The Greens (WA) today launched its First Nations policy.