There has been more than a 50 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal people from the Northern Rivers who have been sentenced to jail in the past four years, according to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics.
The increase has prompted the NSW Greens to describe the situation as ‘a justice system in growing crisis’.
Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice spokesperson David Shoebridge said when almost one in four Aboriginal people can expect to find themselves in jail at some time in their life this is proof the criminal justice system is broken and appallingly damaging’.
The report shows that more Aboriginal people are facing courts and a greater percentage of those facing court are receiving a custodial sentence. Time in custody is also increasing and a significant driver of this is the ongoing District Court backlog and broken bail laws.
Major categories of offences like violence offences are seeing 50 per cent to 133 per cent increases in the number of Aboriginal people locked up on the North Coast. What are known as Justice Offences are seeing between 18 per cent and 90 per cent more Aboriginal people in prison in the area.
‘Every time the Coalition Premier and Labor opposition demand tougher laws and longer sentences remember this, the first and and harshest impact will be on our first peoples,’ Mr Shoebridge said.
‘The Coalition has been directly responsible for much of this increase through brutal bail laws and under-resourced courts that leave hundreds of Aboriginal people in jail awaiting trial.
‘Pretty much the only answer Premier Berejiklian has to this crisis is to build more and bigger jails. This isn’t the answer, in fact it’s the very problem
‘At a time of record surplus this Government is making deliberate choices to invest in locking up people in this state, rather than working to lift them up and help them on their way.
‘This data shows a need for comprehensive investment in community programs on the North Coast. This means spending money on education, health and housing, rather than police, courts and jail.
‘We know justice reinvestment and community support programs will reduce the number of Aboriginal people in prison, and the need for funding could not be more apparent.
‘NAIDOC week has just ended, but the challenges facing Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system are ongoing, and we need this Government to step away from business as usual, and make a commitment to closing the justice gap,’ Mr Shoebridge said.