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Over-representation of Indigenous women in Australian prisons: a consideration of the contributing factors

Aboriginal people (Australia) Aboriginal legal status and laws Torres Strait Islander people Crime Criminal justice Drug crime Prison sentences Prisons Australia
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Since the conclusion of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) in 1991 there has been a significant rise in the prison population of Indigenous peoples in Australia. There has been an even sharper rise in the number of Indigenous peoples in custody. While all Indigenous peoples are over-represented in the Australian prison system, the rate of incarceration of Indigenous women is noticeably higher and is increasing at a more rapid rate. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner noted that “Aboriginal women remain largely invisible to policy makers and program designers with very little attention devoted to their specific situation and needs.”

This paper will address the factors which contribute to and the concerns raised by the unacceptably high risk of incarceration of Indigenous women in Australia. It will be divided into four main sections:

  1. An overview of the plight of Indigenous women currently in custody and the repercussions of this status quo;
  2. a discussion of the victimisation suffered by Indigenous women and the need for nuanced rehabilitation programs which focus on the specific needs of Indigenous women;
  3. a critique of the selective policing of Indigenous-heavy communities and current court practices which have produced disparity in bail and sentencing; and
  4. a brief analysis of the cost of incarceration vs. the cost of rehabilitation.

Each section will describe the issue at hand in detail and provide one or more potential avenues by which the issue may be ameliorated.

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