On 9 February, Attorney-General George Brandis announced the terms of reference for a new Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) inquiry into Indigenous incarceration in Australia. The inquiry was announced in October 2016, and the final terms of reference have now been released after receiving submissions about the scope of the inquiry.
The need for an inquiry has been identified in the face of ever-increasing representation of Indigenous Australians in the prison population.
In 1991, the year of the report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), Indigenous Australians comprised 14 per cent of the Australian prison population. In 2016, it was 27 per cent. Yet Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians constitute only 2 per cent of the overall population over the age of 18.
Indigenous incarceration rates are concerning of themselves, but the fact that they continue to increase is alarming. The inquiry therefore recognises and validates widely held concerns.
On the other hand, it represents the abject failure of successive governments around the country to pay heed to what we do know about the incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians — including the failure to implement the recommendations of the RCIADIC.
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