Western Australian Penal Culture and Indigenous Over Representation: Evaluating 25 years of law, policy and practice


Imprisonment rates in WA are above the national average, have increased by 14% between 2015 and 2016, and Indigenous women are the fastest growing group within the remand system. Imprisonment of fine defaulters is most prevalent in WA, and Indigenous people are the fastest growing group in that prison population. WA and NT are the only jurisdictions where there are more people in prison than under community corrections orders. The over-representation rate for Indigenous people is highest in WA, with 38% of the prison population identifying as Indigenous, compared with a general population rate of 3.1%. Recidivism rates among Indigenous people are nearly double the non-Indigenous rates.

A significant issue is that many Indigenous people are in the system not because they do not want to obey the law, but because they cannot – intellectual disabilities and mental ill-health are particularly poorly dealt with in the corrections system. Recommendations include reform of the CLMIA Act, adoption of Victoria’s child-focussed approach, and NSW’s diversionary options, as well as consideration of New Zealand’s best practice, family orientated approach to dealing with young Indigenous people with FASD. Justice systems based on Indigenous legal principles, local community justice groups, local initiatives to work on the causes of family violence and to allow on-country community healing and Justice Reinvestment projects are recommended. Legislative reforms, especially repealing mandatory sentencing, are needed. Making diversion work for Indigenous offenders may require a shift in thinking and practice towards greater multi-disciplinary assessment and engagement, with a strong emphasis on Aboriginal ownership, including the use of cultural assessments, ‘on-country’ programs, and leadership by Aboriginal community organisations.

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