Number of Aboriginal Tasmanians in prison more than doubles in a decade

Number of Aboriginal Tasmanians in prison more than doubles in a decade

When Aboriginal people are released from Tasmania’s Risdon Prison, Sara Maynard tries to make sure they get back in touch with their community.

Key points: The number of Aboriginal people in Tasmanian prisons has more than doubled over the past decade Data from the Productivity Commission shows there were 154 Aboriginal people in Tasmanian prisons on an average day last financial year, compared to 73 a decade earlier. The cost of running Tasmania’s prisons and community corrections system has almost doubled in the past 10 years

“We’ll provide transport, we’ll connect with community members and say ‘hey, we’ve got this event on it would be great if you came along’,” said Ms Maynard, who is the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s (TAC) social and emotional wellbeing officer. .

The TAC no longer receives government funding to provide legal services to prisoners, but continues to provide a range of supports to Aboriginal people in custody.

Ms Maynard said that when people are released, unfortunately, they still have the same problems that caused them to end up in prison in the first place, and sometimes they are worse than when they were arrested.

Sara Maynard says Risdon Prison has failed Aboriginal people since time began.” (Provided: Jillian Mundy)

“If you haven’t provided them with the tools to give them life skills and to give them access to trauma-informed support and services, what do you expect them to do when they’re released from Risdon Prison?” she said.

“Risdon Prison has been failing Aboriginal people since time began and nothing has changed, in fact there have only been more Aboriginals going into Risdon Prison.”

Imprisonment continues to grow A criminologist says prison is the lease effective option to tackle crime. (Unsplash)

New data from the Productivity Commission backs up Ms Maynard’s comment about the rise.

The number of Aboriginal people in Tasmanian prisons has more than doubled in the past decade, according to the latest state services report.

In 2012-13 there were 73 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Tasmanian prisons on an average day, and 399 non-Indigenous people.

By 2021-22 there were 154 Aboriginal prisoners and 479 were non-Aboriginal.

This means last financial year about 24 per cent of Tasmanian prisoners were Aboriginal, compared to 15 per cent 10 years earlier.

About 5.4 per cent of Tasmanians identified as Aboriginal in 2021.

Indigenous Tasmanians were jailed at an increasing rate during the same period.

In 2012-13, Indigenous people were 4.5 times more likely than non-Indigenous people to be incarcerated.

A decade later, they were 6.8 times more likely to be locked up.

Jail costs are also rising

The detention rate for non-Indigenous Tasmanians has also risen over the past decade, although not as rapidly, and there were about 170 extra prisoners in Tasmanian detention facilities last financial year compared to 2012-13.

The cost of running Tasmania’s prison system has roughly doubled over that period, from $57 million a year a decade ago to $101 million last year.

Amnesty International Australia Indigenous Rights Adviser Rodney Dillon has worked with children in the juvenile justice system and adult prisoners and their families since the 1990s.

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He said the history of oppression endured by Tasmanian Aboriginal people meant they were more likely to experience risk factors, such as poverty and intergenerational trauma, that contributed to incarceration.

“Some of this goes back to the stolen generation, it goes back to poverty, homelessness, there are a lot of reasons why people end up in prison, and a lot of our families are caught in all those areas, and they can’t get out. of it,” he said.

Mr Dillon would like to see Tasmania’s approach to jailing people reformed and rethought.

“I’ve seen more money put into that system, but the history and statistics show it’s getting worse and there are more people going into it.”

“I think we need to look at a new way of working with people, you know what the prison should look like, who should be there and why?”

“There are all kinds of things we can do better.”

Work underway to lower rates, says Minister Elise Archer says the issue of over-representation is a complex one. (ABC News: Scott Ross)

Tasmania’s Attorney-General and Corrections Minister Elise Archer said Tasmania had the lowest gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous incarceration rates of any Australian state and territory.

“The issue of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander over-representation in detention is an extremely complex problem that requires a comprehensive collaborative response from across governments and the community,” Ms Archer said.

“Our Government continues to work together at a national and local level, participating in initiatives aimed at reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.”

Ms Archer said the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners returning to prison in Tasmania had fallen in 2021-22 compared to the previous year.

Tasmania’s cost of correctional services per head, she said, was lower than the Australian average.

Ask for more prison alternatives

Emeritus Professor of Criminology at the University of Tasmania, Rob White, said Tasmania’s rising incarceration rate for both Aboriginal and non-Indigenous people was likely to make the community safer.

Jail is the most expensive but least effective option in terms of trying to tackle crime,” he said.

“We need to put the money where it counts, in the underlying causes of crime, in the community, in housing, in better education systems.”

Associate criminologist from the University of Tasmania, Dr Michael Guerzoni, suggested Tasmania could explore justice reinvestment programs, in which the causes of crime are identified, and measures introduced to address those problems.

In 2015, the Justice Reinvestment method was trialled in Bourke in the state of New South Wales.

“In the Bourke programme, these initiatives were reported to have contributed to reducing motor vehicle offenses by 30 per cent, and reoffending in domestic abuse cases by 37 per cent,” said Dr Guerzoni.

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