A new blueprint for reducing Aboriginal imprisonment rates and building stronger, safer communities

The rapidly increasing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples caught up in the criminal justice system is one of the most significant human rights issues in Australia. Today, the Human Rights Law Centre has joined with other leading Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, community and human rights organisations to launch a ground-breaking blueprint for reversing the tide by focusing on building communities instead of prisons, and developing smarter criminal justice solutions.

“Current approaches to dealing with crime focus largely on harsher punishment measures that ignore the underlying reasons why people commit crime in the first place,” explained the HRLC’s Director of International Advocacy Ben Schokman.

“The evidence is clear that governments should be spending less money on prisons and investing more in tackling the causes of crime. Every dollar spent on prisons is one less dollar available to spend on education, health, support services for people with disability, training and employment programs, or providing adequate public housing. There are much smarter approaches that build stronger communities, reduce crime and save taxpayers millions of dollars by avoiding wasteful prison spending,” said Mr Schokman.

“The solutions lie in building communities not prisons, and in smarter criminal justice policies that treat the causes, not just the symptoms.”

"For a young person who has engaged in minor offending, a much smarter, more effective and cost-efficient approach is to address the reasons for their offending behaviour, such as providing better support for education or health programs, rather than sending them to prison which risks entrenching criminal behaviour," explained Mr Schokman.

The Change the Record campaign being launched today outlines 12 key policy solutions targeted at addressing poverty and disadvantage, making our community safe and arresting imprisonment rates. “The solutions are based on data and evidence of what works, rather than ill-conceived law and order campaigns that are continually run by politicians,” said Mr Schokman.

The campaign is led by the National Justice Coalition, a diverse group of leading organisations each working on issues ranging from child protection, domestic violence, education and disability through to policing, prisons and the operation of the legal system. 

The HRLC played a central role in the group's conceptualisation and establishment. 

According to Mr Schokman, “The group is calling for a smarter approach to reducing violence and crime that focuses on prevention and early intervention. Prison is a blunt and costly response after the damage is done. We need to do much more to prevent crime in the first place. We need to directly involve Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities in developing and implementing the solutions.”

“There’s plenty of evidence about what works to stop violence, save money, strengthen communities and end the over-imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This campaign is about taking the right action,” said Mr Schokman.

Further information about the Change the Record campaign is available at www.changetherecord.org.au.