Youth justice report highlights slow progress on Indigenous outcomes

Since the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released its Youth Justice in Australia 2018-19 report last week, many have spoken out about the continued overrepresentation of First Nations children in the youth justice system.

Presenting data on young people between ten and 17-years-old, the AIHW report found the number of First Nations children under youth justice supervision, whether in community or in detention, had decreased over the past five years.

“Between 2014-15 and 2018-19, the level of Indigenous overrepresentation in youth justice supervision stabilised,” said AIHW spokesperson, Anna Ritson.

During this time, the rate of First Nations young people under supervision fell from 176 to 172 per 10,000 on an average day.

The rate for non-Indigenous young people fell from 12 to 11 per 10,000.

Despite the report showing the number of First Nations young people under supervision had stabilised, many are saying this is not enough to drown out the other obvious inequalities faced by First Nations young people in the youth justice system.

“Although only about 6 percent of young people aged 10-17 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, half (2,448) of the young people under supervision on an average day in 2018-19 were Indigenous,” Ritson said.

Australia’s only Aboriginal-led justice coalition, Change the Record, released a statement saying the report confirmed what they already knew.

“[We already know] that Aboriginal children are being taken from their families and communities at far higher rates than the rest of the population,” said Change the Record Co-Chair, Cheryl Axleby.

“This is devastating for these kids, for their families and for the whole community.”

The report highlighted a number of key problems in the youth justice system, including the near two-thirds (63 percent) rate of unsentenced detainees and that First Nations young people were 16 times as likely to be under supervision as non-Indigenous young people for the year 2018-19.

The report also found First Nations children enter the youth justice system at a younger age than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

On average, nearly two in five (38 percent) First Nations children first enter youth justice supervision aged 10-13 compared to about one in seven (15 percent) non-Indigenous children.

Amnesty International Australia released a damning statement in response to the report, saying Australia “continues to fail its First Nations Peoples”.

“After the Northern Territory Royal Commission and all the evidence that diversion is much more effective, it’s hard to believe Indigenous kids make up 50 percent of those under youth justice supervision, but just 5.9 percent of the population of Australian children,” said Amnesty International Australia Strategic Campaigns Advisor, Joel Clark.

Clark said he found the percentage of children who were unsentenced “particularly alarming”.

“We have failed Indigenous kids and we must as a matter of national urgency raise the age [of criminal responsibility] and commit to justice reinvestment, which all the evidence shows is vastly more successful and enables kids to go on and lead happy, healthy and productive lives,” he said.

Justice reinvestment initiatives across Australia have had great success in reducing rates of offending, such as the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project in the far northwest New South Wales community of Bourke.

Another justice reinvestment program in Western Australia’s Kimberley region saw offences drop from 138 to 44 in the first month.

“Australian State and Territory Attorneys-General have a unique opportunity to profoundly change the trajectory of so many young lives when they meet at the Council of Attorneys-General … I hope they read and acknowledge the tragedy written in these figures,” Clark said.

The next meeting of the Council of Attorneys-General is set to take place on July 27.

By Hannah Cross

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