Unlocking Indigenous incarceration

31 Jul 2015

Governments have ignored a new report exposing appalling rates of young Indigenous people in detention, but a new response is attracting growing support.


Bourke, the town that inspired several of Henry Lawson’s Darling River stories, has always been on the frontier. Now it’s become an unlikely cauldron for an experiment that could reverse Australia’s shocking record of locking up young Indigenous people.

“We’re setting some new foundations,” says Alistair Ferguson, chair of the Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party. He is talking about “justice reinvestment,” an approach first advocated by the American hedge fund billionaire and philanthropist George Soros, which is having its first serious Australian trial on the banks of the Darling, 760 kilometres northwest of Sydney.

The plan involves channelling money that would have been spent building more prisons into community projects aimed at keeping young Aborigines and other vulnerable groups out of them. About a third of Bourke’s 2500 people are Indigenous, and the town has experienced some of Australia’s worst Aboriginal youth imprisonment rates.

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