Indigenous Incarceration: Reform Policy Should Not Compromise Equality Before The Law

This piece originally appeared in The Australian on 6 April 2018. It is about the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report, which can be found here. It draws on my research on Indigenous incarceration, which can be found here.

The exceptionally high rate of incarceration among indigenous Australians requires a policy response that does not compromise equality before the law or community safety.

Over the past decade, the national prison population rose by 43 per cent, with more than a third of this growth the result of more indigenous Australians being incarcerated. Indigenous Australians are incarcerated at 12.5 times the rate of the non-indigenous. This statistic should be read against a complex background of higher offending rates, including higher rates of violent offending, and under performance on all metrics of socio-economic wellbeing.

This issue is back on the national agenda following the release last week of the Australian Law Reform Commission’ report on indigenous incarceration, Pathways to Justice. This is a welcome contribution to the debate around criminal justice reform in Australia.

Unfortunately, however, the report makes some recommendations that would undermine the bedrock principle of equality before the law. There are policy options available to governments that do not infringe on this principle, some of which are also recommended in the report, and these should be preferred.

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Dignity is obtained through opportunity, not redistribution

This piece was co-authored with Daniel Wild (Research Fellow, IPA). It originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 18 January 2018.

The most important task of public policy is to ensure the next generation of Australians have more opportunities to flourish than the last. But declining business investment, worsening school results, family breakdown, and youth joblessness suggest we are failing in this task.

This week, the left-leaning McKell Institute contributed to this important debate with the release of their report Mapping Opportunity: A National Index on Wages and Income.

Unfortunately, the report misses the mark.

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Public safety must always be the priority

This piece originally appeared in the Herald-Sun on 2 January 2018. It is behind a paywall here and on the IPA site here.

Under pressure, Victoria Police have now finally admitted that gangs of young people from African backgrounds are causing fear and havoc in Melbourne’s streets.

But despite that, Victoria’s police chief seems to think arresting people is somehow unfair. Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton appears to spend more time fretting about the “human rights” of juvenile rioters than he does about the interests of communities being terrorised and individuals being assaulted, robbed and worse.

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Equal justice at risk if judges consider Aboriginality in sentencing

This article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald on 22 September 2017.

During the past 10 years, incarceration in Australia has risen 40 per cent. A third of this is the result of more Indigenous Australians being jailed. Indigenous Australians are now jailed at a rate more than 12 times that of non-Indigenous Australians.

The Australian Law Reform Commission is conducting an inquiry into this disproportionate rate of incarceration and how the criminal justice system might be reformed to address it. There are a number of reforms being considered that have the potential to gain bipartisan support, such as making alternatives to prison, like work orders and home detention, more available to Indigenous offenders and improving access to justice by resolving issues such as a lack of translators.

Reformers should focus on ideas that have the potential for broad-based support and that reinforce traditional criminal justice principles like equality under the law, fair punishment, and personal responsibility. Moves to further separate the administration of justice for Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians are unnecessary and contrary to the universality on which the authority of the criminal law depends. The NSW Bar Association’s proposal to amend sentencing laws to specifically take into account an offender’s Indigenous background and the high level of Indigenous incarceration should be rejected.

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The expensive problem with our prisons: why spending more doesn’t make us feel safer

This piece originally appeared on the ABC website on 8 August 2017.

Australia spends more on criminal justice than most other developed countries, but gets worse results. In world terms, we spend a lot on prisons and police but despite this, Australians consistently report feeling less safe than people in similar countries.

These are the findings of the latest report for the Institute of Public Affairs Criminal Justice Project, and they underline the need for criminal justice reform around Australia.

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