• The number of Indigenous men in prison has doubled over the past 10 years, from 668 in March 2007 to 1,327 in March 2017. (Getty Images)Source: Getty Images
A report from Amnesty International Australia has slammed the country for its continued failure of Indigenous people, particularly children, with incarceration rates, reports of abuses and deaths in custody at an all-time high.
22 Feb 2017 - 4:36 PM  UPDATED 22 Feb 2017 - 4:36 PM

Amnesty International Australia’s Global Report into the State of the World’s Human Rights for 2016 has condemned Australia and its justice system for its continued failure of First Australians.

The report criticises the country for locking up Indigenous children 24 times the rate of non-Indigenous children, and Indigenous adults 15 times the non-Indigenous rate.  

Australia also gets a serve for holding primary-aged school children just 10 or 11 years old criminally responsible, despite the recommendation by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child that the international minimum age of criminal responsibility should be 12.

It also found that children aged 10 or 11 were detained in every state except Tasmania. Nearly three quarters of them were Indigenous.

Amnesty International Australia National Director Claire Mallinson says the Indigenous justice issue is a national scandal. 

“You’re 24 times more likely to be in detention if you’re an Indigenous kid than if you’re not Indigenous. That’s an issue that the whole of Australia should be shocked about,” she told NITV.

President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs says it a national shame. 

"I don't know what it's gonna take for our political representatives to take this matter on. It's intertwined with a lot of other issues, domestic violence, failure to support families, and unfortunately its the children that bear the brunt of this and then we see them in very large numbers," she told SBS. 

Amnesty International Australia is calling on the Federal Government to make this a priority. 

“We’ve just seen the really disappointing Close the Gap results where six of the seven indicators were failing, but at the moment, we haven’t even got a national plan or a target to reduce the over-representation of our Indigenous people in the prison system, in the justice system,” she said. 

They’re also calling the government to act when the outcomes of the Northern Territory’s Royal Commission into Youth Detention are released later this year.

“When the Royal Commission into the horrors that we saw at Don Dale is finally released in August [we hope] that will be the springboard to a national plan,” Ms Mallinson said.

Leaked footage of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in Darwin exposed abuse and ill-treatment of children in detention in the Northern Territory. Images of teen inmate Dylan Voller strapped to a chair wearing a spit hood shocked the country and sparked the Royal Commission.   

19-year-old Voller was released from detention eight months early to complete a rehabilitation program. 

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Ms Mallinson is urging the government to develop a national plan and create justice targets. She says Australia is in grave danger of losing a generation to the justice system.

“It makes no sense to be locking up Indigenous kids in the way that we are. In every state of the justice system, Indigenous kids do worse. They’re more likely to be arrested, they’re more likely to be refused bail, they’re more likely to go to detention. This is one of the biggest issues we as a country have to address.”

While the report welcomes the Queensland government’s historic legislation to move 17-year-olds out of adult prisons, it slams the Victorian Government for reclassifying Barwon Prison, a maximum security adult prison, as a youth facility.  

The prison has faced a number of incidents in the last year. Just this month, juvenile inmates claimed they were attacked by guards. Lawyers acting for the youths allege they were subjected to systematic violence, were punched and kicked, and exposed to unnecessary and excessive use of capsicum spray.

It followed riots in previous weeks which left a prison guard injured and damage to part of the prison.

Deaths in Custody

The report also highlights the five Indigenous deaths in custody last year.

Amnesty International Australia research has found alternative pathways work much better than detention, and provide cultural healing and support for kids and families to rehabilitate.

“It’s identified that there are some fantastic, Indigenous-led solutions right around Australia. We looked at the work the Red Dust program is doing in Queensland. They worked with kids in the Cleveland Detention Centre, where again we identified huge issues of human rights abuses, but by working with those kids, two years later none of those children were back in that detention centre. That’s a fantastic result at a very, very low cost,” she said.  

Ms Mallinson says the government needs to invest in prevention, diversionary and early intervention programs, rather than injecting more money into building new prisons and new detention centres.

There are various justice reinvestment programs across country such as Bourke’s Just Reinvest program, the Cathy Freeman program in Palm Island and a program involving horses in Mt Isa.

But Ms Mallsinson says program like these are severely underfunded.

“Amnesty is part of the Redfern Statement and in that we’ve called on the government to put the funding back… we need to ensure Aboriginal Legal Services are properly funded, and critically we need we need to ensure we have pilot schemes of justice reinvestment programs, just like we have in Bourke.”

The report also criticises Australia’s treatment of refugees and asylum seekers.

Tim O'Connor, spokesperson for Refugee Council of Australia, says it's alarming the way the Australian government was treating people seeking asylum.

"It's an enormous concern to Australia, it's costing tax payers billions of dollars and it's destroying the futures of many innocent people."

Mr O'Connor says Australia's international reputation is suffering because of its asylum policies.

"Although there's not much shift at the political level at this point what we see is this international spotlight that's been shone on Australia and it shows Australia in a very bad light."

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