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New Inquiry Into 'Shocking' Indigenous Incarceration Rates

Indigenous teens 24 times more likely to be jailed than their peers.
A new inquiry into Indigenous incarceration is to be launched.
A new inquiry into Indigenous incarceration is to be launched.

The government is pushing for a new inquiry into Indigenous incarceration rates, with Indigenous children and teens 24 times more likely to be incarcerated than their peers.

Attorney-general George Brandis and indigenous affairs minister Nigel Scullion announced on Thursday that the government would ask the Australian Law Reform Commission to "examine the factors leading to the over representation of Indigenous Australians in our prison system, and consider what reforms to the law could ameliorate this national tragedy."

In a release, Brandis and Scullion said Indigenous people are very much overrepresented in Australian prisons.

"In 1991, Indigenous Australians made up 14 per cent of our nation's prison population; by 2015, this had increased to 27 per cent," the pair said.

"Other worrying statistics include the fact that Indigenous children and teenagers are 24 times more likely to be incarcerated than their non-Indigenous peers, while Indigenous women are 30 times more likely to be incarcerated."

The Australian Bar Association said incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians are 16 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians.

The inquiry will come 25 years after the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The terms of reference for the inquiry are still to be set, but will be laid out in consultation with Indigenous people and state governments.

"The Turnbull Government is committed to reducing Indigenous incarceration and has committed $256 million in 2016-17 through the Indigenous Advancement Strategy for activities to address the drivers and improve community safety," Brandis and Scullion said.

It comes as another inquiry into Indigenous affairs, the Royal Commission into youth detention in the Northern Territory, continues. The investigation was launched in the wake of footage showing young Indigenous men being mistreated at the Don Dale detention centre.

The President of the Australian Bar Association, Patrick O'Sullivan QC, praised the announcement.

"The over-representation of Indigenous people incarcerated is a national disgrace and this announcement of an is a significant opportunity to make informed and practical changes that address this problem and delivers better justice outcomes for Indigenous Australians and the country as a whole," he said in a release.

"The ABA has consistently called for national co-operation to address the shocking and disproportionate rates of Indigenous incarceration. In particular, we have proposed a range of measures including the removal of certain mandatory sentencing laws that have the biggest impact with minimum effect on Indigenous people, as well as a review of bail laws, fine default imprisonment and investing in justice reinvestment programs."

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