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Australia rapped on Aboriginal imprisonment

14 april 2011, 15:59
Photograph: Medford Taylor/Getty©
Photograph: Medford Taylor/Getty©
Human rights advocates attacked the Australian government Thursday over the disproportionate number of Aborigines in the nation's jails 20 years after a landmark inquiry into prison deaths, AFP reports.

Amnesty International expressed "outrage" at the fact that Aborigines -- Australia's original inhabitants and its most impoverished minority -- were 14 times more likely to be jailed than non-indigenous people.

Too little had been done in the 20 years since a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody recommended sweeping reforms to improve the plight of the nation's first people, Amnesty said.

"I don’t know what to call it other than a disgrace. Twenty years on and Aboriginal people are still dying in jails," said Rodney Dillon, Amnesty indigenous rights campaigner.

"After all this time we are still waiting for the political determination that will ultimately save lives."

Since the 1991 Royal Commission, 269 Aboriginal people have died in custody and community spokeswoman Bev Manton said they were still imprisoned far too often.

"Aboriginal people are 14 times more likely to be incarcerated and represent nearly 30 percent of our prison population, despite representing less than three percent of our total population," said Manton, head of the New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council.

"That's simply not acceptable."

The imprisonment rate of Aborigines had rocketed 50 percent in the past two decades despite the Royal Commission's 339 recommendations -- many of which remained unaddressed -- and Amnesty called for a review of legal processes.

"Reasons behind the massive over-representation of Aboriginal people in our prison system, like inadequate bail procedures and a failure to see jail as a last resort, have to be addressed," said Dillon.

Manton said mandatory sentencing and tougher sentences did not work for the deeply disadvantaged group and called for a greater emphasis on prevention, rehabilitation, and "culturally appropriate" counselling.

"Our criminal justice system is at a crossroads, and after 20 years of abject failure, a fresh approach is not only needed, it's long overdue," she said.

Aborigines, whose cultures stretch back tens of thousands of years, are believed to have numbered around one million at the time of white settlement, but there are now just 470,000.

The Labor government delivered a historic apology to Aborigines in 2008 but has struggled to improve their health, life expectancy or education, drawing repeated international condemnation.

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