Inquiry warned of indigenous jail wave

More research is needed into drinking by pregnant indigenous women in a bid to head off a wave of young people going to jail.

Australia faces a "wave" of young Aboriginal people going to jail unless more is done to tackle drinking by pregnant women.

Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda told a Senate inquiry on Monday one of the keys to reducing indigenous jail rates was to get a better understanding of foetal alcohol spectrum disorder.

The disorder is an umbrella term for the range of physical, cognitive, behavioural and developmental problems that come from women drinking alcohol during pregnancy.

It is estimated more than one in eight indigenous women drink at high-risk levels at least once a week, compared with five per cent in the general population.

Mr Gooda said many young indigenous people started out in the criminal justice system simply because they did not understand a police instruction, which could stem from them having symptoms of FASD.

More research was needed to engage with indigenous women who drink and better inform those within the justice system who are dealing with children.

"We are going to see a wave of kids going into the justice system and if the justice system can't cope they are going to not only see them going in, we probably won't be seeing them out," Mr Gooda said.

"If we're not prepared for it, we might as well start to plan to build more prisons now."

Mr Gooda said the main aim should not necessarily be reducing jail rates of young people but "creating safer communities".

Source AAP

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