Closing the Gap must address the violence and over-imprisonment crisis destroying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s lives

The Closing the Gap Strategy must adopt targets to reduce violence and imprisonment rates, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-led Change the Record Coalition has said in its submission to COAG’s ‘refresh’ of Closing the Gap.

“Violence and imprisonment are destroying families, communities, and lives,” said Antoinette Braybrook, Co-Chair of Change the Record and Convenor of the National Family Violence Prevention Legal Services Forum.

“Not only are imprisonment and violence rates at epidemic levels, they’re continuing to get worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities,” said Damian Griffis, Co-Chair of Change the Record and CEO of the First Peoples Disability Network.

New data released in last week’s Australian Institute of Criminology Deaths in Custody Program Report Deaths in Custody in Australia 2013-14 and 2014-15shows that the number of deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody in 2014-15 was the highest it has been since 1979-80.

“The disastrous increase in deaths shows that all governments need to take action and agree to justice targets as part of a national approach to Closing the Gap in imprisonment and violence rates,” said Mr Griffis.

“In the generation since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, the Closing the Gap ‘refresh’ is the most significant opportunity for all Australian governments to take real action to make sure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can thrive,” said Ms Braybrook.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have made it clear that justice needs to be addressed under Closing the Gap,” said Mr Griffis.

“The current Closing the Gap Strategy is being undermined because it doesn’t include any targets to reduce disproportionate imprisonment and violence impacting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,” said Ms Braybrook. “These issues present a major barrier for many of our people to achieve better health, education and employment outcomes,” she said.

“We see how harmful prison is for our people – it leads to poverty, homelessness, children being removed, mental and physical health problems, and too often it leads to death,” said Mr Griffis.

“Violence, especially violence against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and children, destroys lives, and the justice system is failing us. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 10 times more likely to be killed in family violence homicides than non-Indigenous women. This needs to be addressed at the highest level,” said Ms Braybrook.

Governments need to negotiate the next stage of the Closing the Gap Strategy with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, the Change the Record Coalition said.

“Government needs to show leadership and support the solutions that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have come up with. We know what our communities need,” said Mr Griffis.

“Closing the Gap must be based on self-determination, or it will continue to fail,” said Ms Braybrook.

In a submission to the COAG Closing the Gap ‘refresh’, Change the Record recommended the following:

  • New targets to reduce imprisonment and violence, including specific targets on family violence and youth justice
  • That the framework for Closing the Gap targets, and arrangements to oversee, monitor and evaluate Closing the Gap Strategy are negotiated with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Organisations
  • That sub-targets and indicators address the systemic factors that drive high rates of imprisonment and violence, including laws, policies and practices in the justice system that are applied unequally to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, as well as setting targets on related issues such as housing, child protection, mental health, systemic racism, and disability support
  • That there is investment under Closing the Gap in programs and services that will address the underlying factors of violence and imprisonment, and work to prevent imprisonment and violence
  • That there is investment into Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community Controlled Legal Services to meet unmet legal needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people
  • Establishing an independent agency, led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to monitor progress and make sure that data and evaluation reflect the priorities of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

The submission is available here.

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