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Jumbunna Institute to lead Indigenous-led review into ACT incarceration rates

Dechlan Brennan -

The ACT has announced details of an independent, Indigenous-led review into First Nations incarceration levels, to be conducted in partnership with the Jumbunna Institute at the University of Technology Sydney.

It comes as recent data shows the ACT grappling with Australia's worst gap in incarceration rates between Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents.

Previously announced last year, the review will deliver two reports. The first - expected in May - will assess how the ACT has implemented recommendations by the Australian Law Reform Commission's recommendations in its Pathways to Justice Report; and the second – scheduled to be finalised by the end of the year - to discuss practical measures for reducing Indigenous incarceration rates.

The Pathways to Justice Report - tabled in federal parliament in 2018 - made 35 recommendations to improve the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment.

These included improved access to community-based sentencing options for Indigenous offenders; the repealing of mandatory sentencing which "has a disproportionate impact" on First Nations offenders; and strengthening police accountability.

The Jumbunna Institute lead and a descendant of the Yuallaraay people, Professor Lindon Coombes, said on Monday: "The extent of over-representation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system in the ACT is an urgent problem that needs to be addressed."

"Jumbunna brings together a highly skilled team to conduct this review," he said.

"We will work closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community in the ACT to develop practical recommendations for the ACT Government."

The Jumbunna Institute has previously worked with the government to implement the territory's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioner. Jumbunna will work closely with Indigenous people in the ACT; engaging with those who have lived experience of the justice system, including young people.

ACT Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said his government was committed to reducing the over-representation of First Nations people in prison.

"This independent review will provide a comprehensive and impartial examination," Minister Rattenbury said.

"The Jumbunna Institute has extensive experience in this type of work and the team will provide invaluable insights to help us provide better outcomes for First Nations people."

Data released last week by the Productivity Commission shows 27 per cent of Canberra's prison population on average are Indigenous. First Nations people from the nation's capital are 24.6 times more likely to be in prison than non-indigenous Canberrans; significantly higher than the national rate of 17.4.

Two per cent (8,908) of the ACT population in the latest census identified as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

The Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services (WNAHCS) said the "shameful outcomes" in the latest data demanded "as a minimum, a comprehensive evidence-based response."

"It is quite clear from the data repeated year after year on Indigenous incarceration rates that whatever the ACT Government is doing or purports to do to address this scandalous failing is not working," WNAHCS said in a statement.

Chief executive Julie Tongs told the ABC the latest inquiry had to "have teeth."

"There needs to be more investment, justice reinvestment programs, where we get people on the cusp rather than after they come out [of prison]," Ms Tongs said.

"Some of these men and women are going to prison for minor offences and they're coming out worse than when they went in."

The ACT government has set the goal of reducing the incarceration of First Nations people to match non-Indigenous incarceration rates by 2031.

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