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SACOSS calls for Indigenous Justice Agreement in response to increasing rates of over-representation of Aboriginal young people in SA juvenile justice system

The South Australian Council of Social Service (SACOSS) has today launched a report calling for greater self-determination and the negotiation of an Indigenous Justice Agreement as a response to increasing rates of over-representation of Aboriginal young people in South Australia’s juvenile justice system.

The SACOSS report Justice or an Unjust System? is largely based on the results of a series of stakeholder interviews conducted in 2014, but it also highlights the significant economic costs of over-representation. 

  Over-representation facts

  • Aboriginal young people form 4% of the 10-17 years old population BUT they are:
    -  46% of young people in detention and 34% of young people under community-based supervision
    -  12.5 times more likely to be involved with the juvenile justice system than non-Aboriginal young people
    -  19.7 times more likely to be in detention
  • Over-representation in the justice system is higher for young people than for the adult population
  • The average cost of incarcerating a young person in SA: $1,000 per young person per day in 2013-14
  • The total cost of both detention and non-custodial supervision of Aboriginal young people in SA: $13.3m per year
  • Budget savings possible if there was no longer over-representation: $12.6m per annum.

SACOSS Executive Director, Ross Womersley said,
“Beyond the sheer costs involved in detaining young people, there are very real personal and community costs borne by some of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged individuals and families in our state. This is a travesty.

“We uncovered good ideas to reform the system by talking to a range of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal stakeholders involved in the juvenile justice system.

"But most importantly, unless we genuinely and effectively re-engage Aboriginal communities at all levels of the justice system we will continue to fail these young people and the Aboriginal community at large.

“We see that a first step in that re-engagement should be the negotiation of an Indigenous Justice Agreement (IJA) between the South Australian government and the Aboriginal community through its peak bodies and community groups.

Several states have adopted IJAs since the idea was floated in 1997 at a national summit of stakeholders in the justice system.

South Australia has not adopted an IJA, and many of the weaker consultative mechanisms set up, have fallen by the wayside or failed to turn over-representation trends around.

Mr Womersley continued,
“There are no easy solutions as over-representation rates reflect entrenched issues  of power and social disadvantage. These issues have been repeatedly highlighted by report after report over many years.

“A generation after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and the Bringing Them Home reports highlighted the issue of over-representation, SACOSS believes it’s time to address the problem properly.

“To do that we must empower Aboriginal voices and communities – both within the justice system and the wider community.”
Download Justice or an unjust system? Aboriginal over-representation in South Australia's juvenile justice system 

Published Date: 
Wednesday, 1 April 2015