Indigenous jail rates have more than doubled over the past 15 years despite arrests and crime rates falling dramatically.
Indigenous jail rates have more than doubled over the past 15 years despite arrests and crime rates falling dramatically.

Aboriginal arrests drop but jail rates more than double

THE number of indigenous people in New South Wales jails has more than doubled over the past 15 years, despite arrest levels falling dramatically.

The Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research revealed the rate of indigenous arrests for violent offences has dropped 37%, while arrests for property crime have fallen 33%.

But the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people behind bars has more than doubled due to arrests being more likely to result in conviction and imprisonment, and a higher rate of bail refusal.

"People convicted of violent offences are now much more likely to receive a prison sentence than they were 15 years ago," BOCSAR said in a statement.

"Law enforcement authorities, on the other hand, appear to be taking a much firmer line in relation to breaches of community-based orders."

Most of the growth in offences related to breaches of custodial and apprehended violence orders, assault and stalking offences.

Australian Bar Association Indigenous Issues Committee chairman Phillip Boulten called on governments to take a closer look at community-based orders and their impact on indigenous jail rates.

"The ABA is extremely concerned by the latest statistics that show 40% of NSW indigenous defendants who are being held in prison on remand do not go on to receive a custodial sentence," he said.

"This again highlights the inappropriateness of the state's bail laws as a major contributor to the increasing rates of indigenous incarceration.

"In many cases, people in disadvantaged circumstances have no stable address to be bailed to and as a result are locked up.

"We need to consider more practical measures, such as bailing indigenous offenders to a community of elders, and giving these communities a role in the justice process."

On average there are about 30,000 prisoners in Australia at any one time.

About a quarter of prisoners are indigenous despite Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people making up less than 3% of the population.

"Even a 10% reduction in the indigenous imprisonment rate would save more than $10 million a year," Mr Boulten said.

Greens MP David Shoebridge blamed the imbalance on aggressive policing policies and a raft of fresh offences introduced by both the Coalition and Labor.

"Whether it's consorting laws, move on powers or public order offences these discretionary police powers are disproportionately directed at Aboriginal people," he said.

"Chronic housing shortages faced by Aboriginal communities together with higher rates of poverty result in a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people being refused bail or found in breach of judicial orders."