Incarceration rates of Aboriginal people

Thursday 02 February, 2023

The Tasmanian Government must resource and fund community-led solutions to address the staggering increases in the imprisonment of Aboriginal people.

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service (TALS) is committed to working with any Government, stakeholder, any and all communities to provide solutions and advocate for the rights of all Aboriginal people in Tasmania.

We are the only funded Aboriginal Legal Service in Tasmania, providing legal and wrap-around services to Aboriginal people living in Tasmania since July 2020. TALS strives to be a model organisation for the way to do business in respect of Aboriginal issues in Tasmania.

We are an inclusive service for all Aboriginal people in Tasmania. There is no issue too small,and we want people to feel they can come to us without shame or judgement.

The recent Productivity Commission data showing a rise in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being locked up in Tasmanian prisons is alarming - but without

systematic and sustained change it is not a surprise.

The figures will continue to rise and Closing the Gap targets will not be met without immediate action.

John Clark, Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service Board Chair

Demand for TALS services continues to increase, and will do so unless there is a change of attitude, a change of systems that do not work and are oppressive. We need a commitment to work with all Aboriginal people and their communities in Tasmania.

Any notion that the rate of Aboriginal incarceration in Tasmania is more palatable than other jurisdictions as it is less than the national average shows a fundamental systemic issue.

This is a call to action, not a call for comparisons. The figures across the nation are a disgraceful indictment of decades of inaction.

Since June 2020, the TALS has opened 2,300 files and assisted clients with various legal matters, from tenancy issues, to parenting arrangements and criminal court matters. The service has 16 lawyers across the State providing advice throughout the entire legal process and there are five Aboriginal Liaison Officers who support clients with their non-legal

needs. This excludes our ongoing discreet assistance - how to deal with Police or Child Safety well before Court proceedings commence or options when someone is being discriminated against in the community.

Since July 2020, Tasmania Police have contacted TALS around 5,700 times to advise they have arrested an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. We have lawyers available to support every single person identifying in custody - 24/7, 365 days a year. Concerningly, TALS expects that from July 2020-July 2023 we will have seen a 47% increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people arrested in Tasmania.

TALS understands ordinary Tasmanians - who do not see the people and their disadvantageson a daily basis - think that jail is the only option to protect the public. The reality is, if we do not deal with people with humanity and compassion, people that we send to jail will not be able to rehabilitate and will continue to offend putting the public at risk on an ongoing basis.

Hannah Phillips, Acting State Manager, Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service

Ongoing inaction, failure and refusal to acknowledge the current state of issues facing Tasmanian Aboriginal people will be the catalyst for further trauma and deaths in custody.

We also see a fundamental need for Aboriginal people in custody to be supported in a culturally appropriate way and have an Indigenous Remand and Reintegration Program in the

prison. Over the past year and a half, that program has supported around 100 inmates. There is so much more than can be done in the prison to support people and provide options

for a brighter future. Given the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal people, the commitment and consultation around what indigenous support needs to look like in the prison must be a priority for the Government.

There must be serious commitment to justice reinvestment, where money being pumped into prisons and a “tough on crime” policing response gets redirected to pay for programs and infrastructure to deal with the root causes of offending.

What we have seen is that our clients are in custody because of offending directly related to their personal circumstances, not because they are inherently bad people.

We need to help and support people early to avoid the cycle of crime. The past has shown us that a police and prison approach does not work.

We have to break the cycle, and that is not going to be done with four walls but with social justice and community led responses.

Lee-Anne Carter, Community Engagement and Program Manager, Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service

Ongoing inaction, failure and refusal to acknowledge the current state of issues facing Tasmanian Aboriginal people will be the catalyst for further trauma and deaths in custody

Related Articles

BSP Program

TALS Bail Support Program pilot

On the 25th January 2024 the Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service launched its Bail Support program pilot.

Bridgewater Youth Hub

Bridgewater Youth Hub

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal service (TALS) is working in collaboration with the Brighton Council and Australian Red Cross - Tasmania to create a youth hub in Bridgewater.

Traditional Tribes of Tasmania

Genuine engagement and consultation required

The Tasmanian Aboriginal Legal Service wants to see genuine engagement and consultation with a wide range of Aboriginal communities and organisations to support the best outcome for Aboriginal children and young people.