Indigenous Australians and crime

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Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at a disproportionately high rate in Australia..1 The 2006 census documented that there are 455,031 Indigenous people, who are either Australian Aborigines or Torres Strait Islanders, in Australia, accounting for 2.3 percent of the population. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that Indigenous Australians account for around 25% of Australia's prison population.2 The Australian government and local Indigenous groups have responded to these trends with numerous programs and measures.

Issues

Prisoners

Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed that Indigenous people accounted for 25 percent of Australia's prison population in 2009.3 The age-standardised imprisonment rate for Indigenous people was 1,891 people per 100,000 of adult population, while for non-Indigenous people it was 136, which meant that the imprisonment rate for Indigenous people was 14 times higher than that of non-Indigenous people. The imprisonment rate for Indigenous people had increased from 1,248 per 100,000 of adult population in 2000, while it remained stable for non-Indigenous people.4

Indigenous men accounted for 92 percent of all Indigenous prisoners, while for non-Indigenous people the rate was 93 percent.5 Seventy-four percent of Indigenous prisoners had been imprisoned previously, while the rate for non-Indigenous prisoners was fifty percent.6 Chris Graham of the National Indigenous Times calculated in 2008 that the imprisonment rate of Indigenous Australians is five times higher than that of black men in South Africa at the end of apartheid.7

Violence

Violence in Indigenous communities is disproportionately high. The main source of information on homicides is the National Homicide Monitoring Program (NHMP), which was established in 1990 at the Australian Institute of Criminology. Data showed that from 1 July 1989 to 30 June 2000, 15.7 percent of homicide offenders and 15.1 percent of homicide victims were Indigenous, despite the fact that they made up only 2 percent of the population in 2000. The NHMP data is gathered from police records, which may not always identify race accurately; in some cases the assessment of a person's race is left to the police themselves. Because of this, it is likely that Indigenous people are involved in more homicides than the statistics suggest.8

Age-standardised figures in 2002 showed that 20 percent of Indigenous people were the victims of physical or threatened violence in the previous 12 months, while the rate for non-Indigenous people was 9 percent.9

Child sexual abuse, neglect, and family violence

The incidence of child abuse in Indigenous communities, including sexual abuse and neglect, is high in comparison with non-Indigenous communities. However the data is limited, with most coming from child protection reports.10 The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare gathered data for 2008–2009 on children aged 0–16 who were the subject of a confirmed child abuse report. It showed that Indigenous children accounted for 25 percent of the reports, despite making up only 4.6 percent of all Australian children; there were 37.7 reports per 1,000 of Indigenous children and 5 reports per 1,000 of non-Indigenous children, that is, Indigenous children were 7.5 times more likely to be the subject of a child abuse report.11

The data showed that child sexual abuse was the least common form of abuse of Indigenous children, in contrast to media portrayals. Incidents of child abuse in Indigenous communities are under-reported. There are several explanations for this, including fear of the authorities; denial; fears that the child may be taken away; and social pressure.12 One explanation of the high number of incidents is that child abuse is more frequent among the poor, and the Indigenous community is significantly poorer than the non-Indigenous community.13

The issue of child abuse in Indigenous communities was looked at by the Northern Territory government, who in 2007 produced a report referred to as "Little Children Are Sacred".

Family violence and sexual assault are at "crisis levels" in the Indigenous community, according to Monique Keel of the Australian Institute of Family Studies.14 In 2002 the Western Australia government looked into the issue and conducted an inquiry, known as the Gordon inquiry after its lead investigator, Sue Gordon. The report, "Inquiry into Response by Government Agencies to Complaints of Family Violence and Child Abuse in Aboriginal Communities", said that "[t]he statistics paint a frightening picture of what could only be termed an ‘epidemic’ of family violence and child abuse in Aboriginal communities."15

Illicit drug use

Data from 2004–2007 showed that illicit drug use by Indigenous people is twice as high as that of the general population. The data showed that 28 percent of Indigenous people aged 15 and above in non-remote areas had used illicit drugs in the previous 12 months, while the rate for non-Indigenous people aged 14 and above in all areas was 13 percent. The illicit drugs most used by Indigenous people are cannabis, amphetamines, analgesics, and ecstasy. Since the 1980s cannabis use by Indigenous people has increased substantially. Studies suggest that Indigenous people prefer amphetamines over heroin because it is cheaper and lasts longer.16

There is strong evidence of a link between substance abuse and violent behaviour in Indigenous communities.17

Deaths in custody

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) was set up in 1987 to investigate concerns over the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody.18 The 1991 report of the same name found that the death rate in custody was in fact similar for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous people—a discovery that surprised many—and that the high number of Indigenous deaths in custody was explained by the disproportionate number of Indigenous people in custody relative to non-Indigenous people—a factor of 29 according to a 1988 report by the commission.19 The issue resurfaced in 2004 when an Indigenous man, Mulrunji Doomadgee, died in custody in Palm Island, Queensland, an incident that caused riots on the island.20 The police officer who had custody of Doomadgee was charged with manslaughter, and was found not guilty in June 2007.21

Aboriginal deaths in custody have in some instances been attributed to "a culture of racism, cronyism and cover-up" within the police force.22

Responses

Indigenous figure Noel Pearson have criticised government attempts at tackling the crime rate among Indigenous communities.23

Circle sentencing has been adopted as an alternative option for sentencing adult Aboriginal offenders.24 Informed by the restorative justice approach, circle sentencing seeks to integrate Aboriginal customary tradition into the legal process.

Reports on the rates of Indigenous crime have also focused on reducing risk by targeting the socio-economic factors that may contribute to such trends.25 Such factors include education, housing and the lack of employment opportunities for Indigenous Australians.

See also

References

  1. ^ Edney and Bagaric, p. 241.
  2. ^ 2006 census: Person characteristics, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 27 June 2007, accessed 11 November 2010.
  3. ^ 4517.0 – Prisoners in Australia, 2009: Indigenous prisoners, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 10 December 2009, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  4. ^ 4517.0 – Prisoners in Australia, 2009: Imprisonment rates, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 10 December 2009, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  5. ^ 4517.0 – Prisoners in Australia, 2009: Sex, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 10 December 2009, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  6. ^ 4517.0 – Prisoners in Australia, 2009: Prior imprisonment, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 10 December 2009, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  7. ^ Graham, Chris. "Editorial: Deafening silence", National Indigenous Times, 9 July 2009, accessed 10 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  8. ^ Mouzos, Jenny. "Indigenous and non-Indigenous homicides in Australia: a comparative analysis" PDF (54.4 KB), Australian Institute of Criminology, June 2001, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010. ISBN 0-642-24235-6. ISSN 0817-8542. See accompanying webpage here, archived 11 November 2010.
  9. ^ 4102.0 – Australian Social Trends, 2005: Crime and Justice: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People: Contact with the Law, Australian Bureau of Statistics, 12 July 2005, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010.
  10. ^ "Little Children Are Sacred", pp. 234, 239.
  11. ^ Berlyn and Bromfield, p. 1.
  12. ^ Berlyn and Bromfield, p. 2.
  13. ^ "Little Children Are Sacred", p. 224.
  14. ^ Keel, p. 1.
  15. ^ Gordon, p. xxiii.
  16. ^ Catto, Michell; Thomson, Neil. "Review of illicit drug use among Indigenous peoples" PDF (629 KB), Australian Indigenous HealthReviews (Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet), number 3, May 2010, accessed 11 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 11 November 2010. For an earlier, html version see here, 2008, archived 11 November 2010.
  17. ^ "Little Children Are Sacred", p. 226.
  18. ^ Edney and Bagaric, pp. 249–251.
  19. ^ National Report Volume 1 – 1.3 The disproportion numbers of Aboriginal people in custody, Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, 1991, accessed 12 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 12 November 2010.
    • For surprised many, see Indigenous Australians and the Law, p. 9.
  20. ^ "Police accused of Aborigine death", BBC News, 27 September 2006, accessed 12 November 2010.
  21. ^ Marriner, Cosima. "Calm in Palm Island after verdict", The Sydney Morning Herald, 20 June 2007, accessed 13 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 13 November 2010. Archived by WebCite on 14 November 2010.
  22. ^ Perera, Suvendrini. "Racism and cover-up pervade response to deaths in custody". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  23. ^ Pearson, Noel. "Noel Pearson: Failure to act also criminal". The Australian. Retrieved 30 September 2013. 
  24. ^ Weatherburn, D., Snowball, L & Hunter, B (2006). The economic and social factors underpinning Indigenous contact with the justice system: Results from the 2002 NATSISS survey. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research. 

Sources

Further reading

Child abuse

External links