From arrest to charge to bail to court to jail – Aboriginal people face a biased criminal justice system

Aboriginal people in NSW are more likely to charged, more likely to be refused bail and more likely to spend time in jail than non-Aboriginal people who commit the same offence.

The criminal justice system is NSW is increasingly biased against Aboriginal people according to the latest comprehensive report. The latest analysis released by BOCSAR shows that from 2001 to 2015 every step of the criminal justice system, from police to courts, is delivering higher rates of Aboriginal incarceration, despite falling crime rates (also documented in a BOCSAR report released today).

  • 40% increase in rate of Aboriginal people in jail between 2001 and 2015, with a continued upward trend.
  • Almost doubling of the Aboriginal jail population from 2001 to 2015 from fewer than 1,500 Aboriginal people locked up in NSW to closer to 3,000.
  • More Aboriginal people jailed for public order offences, rising from 121 Aboriginal people in 2001 to 197 in 2015, during a period where discretionary police powers were broadly expanded.
  • 14 out of the 16 offence categories show an increase in the proportion of Aboriginal people convicted of an offence receiving a prison sentence.
  • In 2015 there were 3,409 Aboriginal people convicted of judicial procedure offences, more than double the 2001 figure of 1,663.

BOCSAR concludes that: “The rise in Indigenous imprisonment in NSW is due to a combination of higher rates of arrest resulting in conviction, a greater likelihood of imprisonment given conviction and a higher rate of bail refusal”.

As reported by the Sydney Morning Herald: 

The Indigenous prisoner population has more than doubled in NSW over the past 15 years despite a sharp drop in arrests for serious crimes, prompting calls for an overhaul of bail laws which are hitting disadvantaged communities hardest.

Latest figures from the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) reveal a 40 per cent rise in the rate of Indigenous imprisonment between 2001 and 2015, due in part to an increase in the rates of bail refusal.

At the same time, Indigenous involvement in violent crime and property crime declined by 37 per cent and 32 per cent respectively.

Almost 40 per cent of Indigenous defendants refused bail and held on remand – in custody awaiting trial or sentence – do not go on to receive a prison sentence at their final court appearance.

Greens MP David Shoebridge, the party’s justice spokesman, said the government should wind back “regressive amendments” to the state’s bail laws, which took effect from January 2015.

The changes effectively reintroduced a presumption against bail for certain offences, which had been scrapped in 2014 under a new regime intended to simplify the bail process and remove ad hoc categories where the presumption applied.

Greens MP and Aboriginal Justice Spokesperson David Shoebridge said:

“Aboriginal people in NSW are more likely to be charged for offences, less likely to be released on bail and more likely to serve prison sentences than non-Aboriginal offenders.

“What that means, is that a time where Aboriginal offending is going down, even more people are being locked up.

“The aggressive approach to policing and raft of fresh offences introduced by both the coalition and Labor has seen more Aboriginal people put in gaol.

“Whether it’s consorting laws, move on powers or public order offences these discretionary police powers are disproportionately directed at Aboriginal people.

“Chronic housing shortages faced by Aboriginal communities together with higher rates of poverty result in a disproportionate number of Aboriginal people being refused bail or found in breach of judicial orders.

“When this structural disadvantage is added to a lack of cultural understanding, the criminal justice system delivers gross injustices to Aboriginal people in NSW.

“The rise in Aboriginal imprisonment is against a backdrop of reduced offending.

“Harsher sentencing across just three offences accounts for an additional 600 Aboriginal people in jail in 2015 than 2001.

“The serious overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system is found at every level, from arrest and charge to bail, sentencing and parole. The first step in addressing racial bias against Aboriginal people in our criminal justice system is for every political party to accept this an unjust reality.

“Addressing Aboriginal overrepresentation requires a root and branch reform of the criminal justice system.

“The long term solution is a change in politics, and a change in focus from jailing in our first people to investing in their success through justice reinvestment,” Mr Shoebridge said.

 

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