In 2017, Aboriginal adults accounted for 8.5 per cent of all prisoners in Victoria despite comprising only 0.6 per cent of the total Victorian adult population. Once age differences between the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal populations were accounted for, the non-Aboriginal imprisonment rate was 14.0 per 10,000 adults in Victoria, while the adult Aboriginal imprisonment rate was 168.3 per 10,000 population, 12.0 times the rate for the total population[i].
On an average day in 2017, Aboriginal adults accounted for 7.2 per cent of offenders in community-based corrections. The age-standardised Aboriginal community corrections rate was 264.4 per 10,000, 9.5 times the non-Aboriginal rate of 27.9 per 10,000[ii].
In 2016-17 Aboriginal youth accounted for 16.9 per cent of all young people in youth detention despite comprising only 1.3 per cent of the Victorian youth population (10-17 years). The non-Aboriginal detention rate was 1.8 per 10,000 youth (10-17 years) in Victoria, while the Aboriginal youth detention rate was 23.2 per 10,000, 12.7 times the non-Aboriginal rate[iii].
Similarly, Aboriginal youth aged 10-17 years accounted for 18.4 per cent of young offenders under community-based youth justice supervision on an average day. The rate of Aboriginal youth under community-based supervision was 123.5 per 10,000, 14.3 times the non-Aboriginal rate of 8.6 per 10,000 [iv].
On any given day, the vast majority of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system are adults (approximately 92 per cent) and the majority of these adults are male (approximately 80 per cent). On any given day, approximately 60 per cent of Aboriginal males in prison and in community-based corrections are aged 18-34 years[v]. Given their high numbers, and frequency of interactions with the criminal justice system, reducing the number of Aboriginal males in contact with the criminal justice system is critical if the targets, milestones and outcomes of this Agreement are to be realised.
Figure 3. Nine out of every ten Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system are adults
When AJA2 was evaluated in 2012, Aboriginal women were imprisoned in Victoria at a higher rate than non-Aboriginal men[vi]. Since then, the number and rates of Aboriginal women in prison have continued to increase. While Aboriginal women are a relatively small cohort within Victoria’s prison system, this cohort has consistently been the fastest growing with a high number of repeat offenders.
Figure 4. Adult female imprisonment rates in Victoria, rates per 10,000 population.
Source: ABS 4512.0 Corrective Services, Australia, December Quarter 2017. Aboriginal male imprisonment rates not shown.
Figure 5. One in every five Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system is female
The vast majority of Aboriginal adults in Victoria’s criminal justice system have had previous involvement with the system, and frequently their first interaction with the system was as a child. Most Aboriginal children and young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system do so as a victim, and responding to their needs as victims must be a top priority. Victoria’s young and rapidly-growing Aboriginal population represents both a risk and opportunity for addressing Aboriginal over-representation through early intervention, prevention and diversion.
Crime by young people in Victoria has been decreasing[vii]. However in any population, the prevalence of criminal behaviour is higher among younger age groups than older groups. This presents a particular challenge in Victoria, given that almost 60 per cent of the Aboriginal population is under the age of 25 (compared to 32 per cent of the non-Aboriginal population)[viii].
The majority of Aboriginal young people will never be involved in the criminal justice system as offenders and fewer Aboriginal young people were involved in the criminal justice system in 2017 compared with five years ago. For those who do become involved in the criminal justice system they tend do so at an earlier age than their non-Aboriginal peers, and with increasing frequency over time, often spending numerous short periods of time in custody on remand. Aboriginal children aged 10-13 years are more than four times as likely as their non-Aboriginal peers to be in contact with police as first time offenders[ix].
A complex relationship exists between family violence, child removal, criminal offending and ongoing engagement with the justice system. A growing number of Aboriginal children are experiencing increased exposure to risk factors for offending - notably family violence, parental alcohol and/or substance abuse and involvement in out-of-home care[x] - resulting in greater likelihood of early contact with the criminal justice system.
Removal from home and disconnection from family and culture continues to lead young people to enter into the justice system at earlier ages. Currently, Aboriginal young people (10-17) are over-represented by 14 times in youth justice supervision and 15 times in out-of-home care. The younger an individual is when they first come into contact with the criminal justice system (either as a victim or offender), the more likely they are to have prolonged contact with the system, as an offender, in future[xi]. The risk of future involvement with the criminal justice system is exacerbated when parental incarceration or other circumstances results in children entering the child protection system, or out of home care. Parental and family involvement in the criminal justice system risks normalising these patterns of involvement and sustaining transmission of offending behaviour across generations.
Figure 6. Over-representation of Aboriginal young people in family violence, child protection and youth justice
Action to address this is driven through the Aboriginal Children’s Forum and the Wungurilwil Gapgapduir Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement, a three-party agreement between the Aboriginal community, the child and family services sector and the Victorian Government. Making inroads into this key driver of Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system will underpin the long term achievement of outcomes under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja.
Re-offending contributes significantly to the rates of Aboriginal over-representation. Lower proportions of Aboriginal offenders on supervised orders successfully complete their orders compared with non-Aboriginal offenders, which is a major contributor to the rate of re-offending. More broadly, socio-economic factors such as homelessness, financial stress, social and economic exclusion and limited access to culturally-appropriate substance abuse treatment programs and poorer educational outcomes all contribute to failing to complete orders and recidivism. Those who have been incarcerated previously are at “…higher risk of re-offending and entrenching the intergenerational cycle of poverty”[xii].
Figure 7. Prisoner Recidivism 2016-17
Source: Corrections Victoria Data Warehouse, ABS 4517.0 Prisoners in Australia, 2017.
[ii] Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018, 4512.0 – Corrective Services, Australia, December Quarter 2017, Retrieved 27 April 2018
[iii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2018, Youth Justice in Australia 2016-17, Retrieved 11 June 2018 https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports/youth-justice/youth-justice-in-australia-2016-17/
[v] Corrections Victoria Data Warehouse, 2017
[vi] Nous Group, 2012, Evaluation of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 2 – Final Report, prepared for Department of Justice and Regulation, Victoria State Government.
[vii] Crimes Statistics Agency, 2017, Are more first-time young offenders being recorded for serious crimes than in the past?. Victoria State Government, Retrieved 27 April 2018 <https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/research-and-evaluation/publications/youth-crime/are-more-first-time-young-offenders-being-recorded >.
[ix] Calculations based on data from the Crime Statistics Agency extracted from LEAP database and subject to change.
[x] Commission for Children and Young People, 2016, Always Was, Always Will Be, Koori Children, Victoria State Government.
[xi] Allard T, Chrzanowski A & Stewart A. 2012, Targeting crime prevention to reduce offending: Identifying communities that generate chronic and costly offenders. Trends & issues in crime and criminal justice no. 445, Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology.
[xii] PWC Indigenous Consulting, 2017, Indigenous Incarceration: Unlock the Facts,, p.33.