World News

Aboriginal Youth Are Disproportionately Jailed, Report Finds

Posted May 25, 2018 4:07 p.m. EDT

SYDNEY, Australia — The number of indigenous Australian juveniles in detention, on bail or on parole is increasing, even as the total number of children accused of crimes in Australia is decreasing, a government agency said Friday.

Indigenous Australians are disproportionately represented in the youth justice system and are 18 times more likely than their nonnative counterparts to be under “justice supervision,” according to a report by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

Of the 5,359 minors ages 10 to 17 under supervision on an average day last year, about half came from the country’s aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, according to the report. But children from those same communities made up only 5 percent of the country’s population for the same age group.

“We have been tracking the indigenous and non-indigenous kids in justice supervision, and the rate for indigenous kids is falling slower than non-indigenous kids,” said David Braddock, the institute’s spokesman.

According to the study, from 2012 to 2013 indigenous juveniles were 15 times more likely to be in the system than non-indigenous children, but that number rose to 18 times over the last five years.

“When you compare the two rates, the overrepresentation for indigenous kids is getting higher,” Braddock said.

Australia’s juvenile detention facilities have been under scrutiny since accusations of abuse surfaced in recent years. In 2016, the news program Four Corners broadcast footage recorded inside the centers that showed boys being stripped, sprayed with tear gas at close range and, in one case, shackled to a chair while forced to wear a hood.

Some of those facilities, including the Don Dale Youth Detention Center in Berrimah, which was closed in 2014 after a tear-gassing incident but reopened in a nearby location under the same name, are in the Northern Territory, the area with the country’s largest aboriginal population.

The report found that the rate of supervision had decreased in every state and territory except for the Northern Territory. There, supervision has increased 4 percent over the past five years.

The institute’s findings were released one day after the Northern Territory Police said no one would be charged in relation to the abuse at the youth detention facilities.

“The statistics show the other states are leaving the Northern Territory behind, this is the new Stolen Generation,” said Christine Kngwarraye Palmer, whose grandson was detained at Don Dale, referring to an early 20th-century policy in which children of indigenous descent were given to white families.

“This new long-term data evidence is what’s been happening to our young people and is the evidence of the erosion of community control in the youth justice prevention,” added Palmer, who testified to a Royal Commission that investigated Don Dale. “I am a grandmother of a former Don Dale detainee, I know what its like to have my own family subject to that sort of abuse and torture.”

Many indigenous leaders blame the high supervision rate on the Northern Intervention Program, a 2007 policy that took power from local communities to discipline juvenile offenders and gave it to the federal government.

“It essentially decimated communities and represents an assimilationist agenda intent on dismantling, disempowering and stripping away culturally appropriate and community-driven initiatives at the grass-roots level,” said Olivia Nigro, an indigenous-rights activist.