A brighter tomorrow: keeping Indigenous kids in the community and out of detention in Australia

2 Jun 2015

Executive summary

Children are vital to any community. Under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Indigenous children, like children everywhere, have the right to ‘develop their personalities, abilities and talents to the fullest potential, to grow up in an environment of happiness, love and understanding. The Convention recognises each child as an individual and a member of a family and community. The Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples recognises the right of the right of Indigenous families and communities to secure the well-being of their children and to have greater control over decision-making about their own lives and futures. Community is everything when it comes to ensuring all young people have what they need to enjoy their rights as children. ‘We know what works best for our communities’ as Mr Gooda says in the foreword to this report.

Indigenous youth detention in Australia is a national crisis – and the crisis is getting worse. Indigenous young people are “more likely to be incarcerated today than at any other time since the release of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody final report in 1991” said the Australian House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs in 2011.

The most recent data, from 2013–14, shows that Indigenous young people are 26 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up just over 5 per cent of the Australian population of 10–17 year-olds but more than half (59 per cent) of those in detention. The situation is bleaker still among the youngest Indigenous children, who made up more than 60 per cent of all 10-year-olds and 11-year-olds in detention in Australia in 2012–13.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population has more people in younger age brackets than the non-Indigenous population, with larger proportions of young people. In light of this, the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples noted in 2013 that “unless the rate of increase in youth detention can be reduced, rates of incarceration across the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population are likely to continue to increase into the future.”

This report details the nature of this crisis, and makes practical recommendations on ways the Australian Government can reduce these escalating rates. It is based on field and desk research carried out between 2013 and early 2015 by Amnesty International.

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