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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People

Jailing is failing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately over-represented in Australia’s prisons. First Nations people make up 3.3% of the general population but 33% of people in prison are First Nations people.  In some jurisdictions, this is significantly higher. In the Northern Territory, First Nations people make up 88% of incarcerated adults and in Western Australia, 43% of adults in prison are First Nations people.

The proportion of children who are First Nations who are incarcerated is even higher. 63% of children in imprisoned by state and territory governments in Australia are First Nations children. State and territory governments consistently imprison First Nations children (and adults) at higher rates than the non-Indigenous population. 2024 Productivity Commission data notes that state and territory governments are 27 times more likely to imprison Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children compared to non-Indigenous children. This is higher in some jurisdictions. For instance, in Western Australia, the state government is 38 times more likely to imprison First Nations children than non-Indigenous children.

It is more than 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Although governments accepted almost all of the Commission’s recommendations, many of them, such as imprisonment being the “last resort,” have not been implemented. Governments have also failed to adequately address the underlying systemic issues which the Royal Commission identified as the cause of the disproportionate rate of First Nations incarceration.