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Imprisonment rates of Indigenous women a national shame

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO has described the imprisonment rates of Indigenous women as a national disgrace.

Commissioner Oscar delivered the Grace Vaughan Memorial Lecture at the University of Western Australia last night and raised concerns about the over-representation of Indigenous women in prisons around the country.

“When there is a systems failure as there currently is with our incarceration system, First Australians always suffer a disproportionate impact. And the most vulnerable to this failure, the latest victims, are our women.

“The trajectory of incarceration in this nation shines a glaring light on the systemic inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples,” she said.

Indigenous Australians make up 2% of the general population but 28% of the prison population.

Commissioner Oscar said one of the most concerning trends is the 77% increase of women in prison, and it is Indigenous women who account for most of this growth. Indigenous women make up 2% of Australia’s population and yet we are 34% of the women behind bars.

She highlighted the fact that in 2017, Western Australia had the highest jailing rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the country, and 22.3% of its Aboriginal prison population were women.

“We must work to provide the necessary supports for children, women, families and communities to overcome systemic issues and close the gap on all forms of inequality.

“Reports like the recently released Australian Law Reform Commission’s report into the over-representation of Indigenous peoples in custody sets out strategies aimed at early intervention and family supports within the child welfare and justice spaces, she said.

Commissioner Oscar is in Western Australia as part of national consultations for the Australian Human Rights Commission Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project.

During this visit, she’s holding meeting with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls in Perth, Geraldton and Kalgoorlie.

“It is the first time in 31 years that the Australian Government has funded a national engagement project to listen to the strengths, challenges and aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.

“Through the Human Rights Commission we can unite government with the voices and lived experience of women and girls on the ground to guide better decision-making grounded in our national and international human rights obligations.

Commissioner Oscar’s speech titled The collective power and potential of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls: Recognising their human rights in achieving equality can be found here…

The Grace Vaughan Memorial lecture commemorates the life and achievements of Grace Vaughan, a social worker, social activist and parliamentarian, who was dedicated to ensuring women’s full participation in society. The lecture is presented by the Australian Association of Social Workers, the Institute of Advanced Studies at The University of Western Australia and Department of Local Government and Communities Western Australia.