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First Peoples

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Overrepresentation of Indigenous women in the criminal justice system is a crisis warranting immediate attention. In the Northern Territory, Indigenous women represent 26.40% of the female population and yet they are a staggering 80.72% of female offenders and 84.54% of the prison population. These rates of incarceration continue to increase. This situation is unacceptable, and this paper attempts to explore why there has been a continual rise in Indigenous female incarceration rates in the Northern Territory since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) in 1991. In addition, it will examine the Northern Territory government’s response to some key RCIADIC recommendations to provide insight into how these responses (or lack thereof) have played a role in the plight of indigenous women today.

Key Findings:

  • In the analysis of data, Indigenous women are often grouped with non-Indigenous women or with Indigenous men.The lack of specific data makes the tracking of the post-RCIADIC Indigenous female incarceration rates difficult.
  • Adhering to mainstream norms in policy development and implementation can result in harmful ramifications for Indigenous people; especially women. A major shift in legislative and policy development and implementation must occur to effectively address the upward trajectory of Indigenous female incarceration rates.
  • The Northern Territory government continues to disregard the key recommendations of RCIADIC relating to the principle of imprisonment as a last resort through paperless arrests, mandatory sentencing, the NT Bail Act, lack of sentencing options and the continued ‘tough on crime’ mentality.
  • The government also fails to recognize and respect the ways Indigenous women as caregivers and cultural custodians can offer more to the wellbeing of family and community if they remain in-community rather than being incarcerated. 
  • While the reforms articulated in this paper are especially relevant to the overlooked needs of Indigenous women, most of them would also have the desirable effect of helping Indigenous men as well, who are affected by many of the same dynamics leading to overincarceration.
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