Statistics released this week reveal the Gunner Government is sending more men and women to prison than ever before – a direct result of Chief Minister Gunner’s failure to repeal mandatory sentencing laws.
The Corrections Department’s figures for April 2018 reveal 1,833 prisoners were locked up across the Territory. The situation is dire in Alice Springs, which has capacity for around 500 people but currently has 642 prisoners - 142 more than there is room for. The Northern Territory has by far the highest rate of imprisonment in Australia.
Shahleena Musk, Senior Lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, said that the numbers show a grave crisis of mass-imprisonment that the Gunner Government can and should commit to fixing.
“These terrifying statistics paint a picture of an unfair and damaging criminal justice system that is geared towards separating families and communities and locking people up in dead end prisons. With the stroke of a pen the Gunner Government can begin to turn the tide on this crisis by repealing mandatory sentencing laws,” said Ms Musk.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are locked up at significantly higher rates than non-Indigenous people in the NT. Just last month the Australian Law Reform Commission’s report on the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples found that laws like the Northern Territory’s mandatory sentencing are disproportionately used against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“Mandatory sentencing forces people into prisons even where this defies common sense. There is no room for mandatory sentencing in a modern and fair justice system. The Gunner Government can today choose to cut the number of people, particularly Aboriginal people, being siphoned into the quicksand of the criminal justice system by wiping these unfair laws from the statute book,” said Ms Musk.
The statistics also show an increase in women being forced into prisons, the majority being mothers. Alarmingly, women are being held in small units inside the over-crowded and male-dominated prisons.
“Most women in prison have children and locking them up causes profound upheaval – broken families, children moved into child protection, and the loss of housing and employment. Locking women up in male prisons is dangerous. Two independent reports in 2017 urged the Government to find safer accommodation for women, in facilities that allow them to keep their families together and live with their kids,” said Ms Musk.
For interviews or further information please call:
Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519
Photo credit: kenhodge13 [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons