Australian Law Reform Commission inquiry into the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency submission
Indigenous peoples Cultural awareness cultural competency Self-determination Criminal justice Northern Territory

Due to the high number of Aboriginal people in contact with the criminal justice system (and amongst the highest rates of incarceration for any group in the world), and the complex cultural and related aspects including significant diversity of languages, there is a need to consider the cultural appropriateness of the justice system itself.

Consideration of the cultural appropriateness of the justice system requires an exploration of the different parts of the system and how these interface with Aboriginal engagement. Reference to ‘culture’ in considering the cultural appropriateness of the justice system is of significant value, and is much more meaningful than what is often understood as the symbolic gestures of a different culture.

Key Findings:

  • Culturally appropriate legal education programs offer significant value to the justice system and are vital to increase agency of Aboriginal in the justice system. Programs which work to address cultural and language barriers and increase understanding of legal concepts are an important step to making the criminal justice system more meaningful for Aboriginal people involved in the justice system. Legal education programs need to be resourced and supported to work directly with people in community including the defendants and their families with the time, space and context required including on bush court circuits.
  • Aboriginal people need to be resourced to be agents of change for themselves, their families and their communities. Cultural Authorities (or Law and Justice groups, Elder groups, or groups with their own names specific to communities) need to be resourced appropriately and integrated across the justice system.
  • Bail laws require reform to reflect culturally appropriate factors and properly resourced and suitable accommodation/diversion options. Sentencing needs to take into account cultural factors and a process similar to Canada’s ‘Gladue Reports’.
     - Mandatory sentencing requires wholesale repeal with a focus on prevention and alternatives to prison including community based sentences.
     - Traffic offences such as fines and lack of driver’s licences require wholesale reform and preventative programs to reduce offending rates.
     - Alcohol policy requires a shift from a solely criminal justice response to one that also includes a culturally appropriate health based response.
     - The Aboriginal Justice Agreement process will require meaningful and substantial support from government decision-makers.
     - Police accountability needs to be considered in the context of cultural appropriateness.
     - Offending stemming from mental health and disability requires a shift from a criminal justice response to a culturally appropriate health based response. The criminal justice system for females requires increased diversion and alternatives to prison including culturally appropriate community based options.
  • The strategic priorities across departments, agencies, organisations and institutions involved in the justice system need to move to a culturally appropriate position to make progress.

In providing this submission, NAAJA's aim is to focus on a Northern Territory-specific context and to highlight issues and make recommendations based on their authority led by an Aboriginal board and are consistent with their serious commitment to cultural competency.

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