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Attorneys General meeting flags reforms to reduce Indigenous incarceration rate, raising age of criminal responsibility

Jarred Cross -

Leading voices on First Nations justice will be heard at the next Standing Council of Attorneys General to address justice reform and incarceration rates of Indigenous people.

On Friday the Council, made up of Commonwealth Attorney General Mark Dreyfus and the AGs from each state and territory, met in Darwin.

All Attorneys General present agreed "significant and transformational criminal justice reform" is needed to correct the ongoing impacts of the current system on First Nations people.

Currently, targets 10 and 11 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in custody, "is going backwards", according to the Council.

At the adoption of the agreement in mid-2020, after more than a decade of steps towards it, the most recent set of Australian Bureau of Statistics data recorded an imprisonment rate of 2.2 percent among all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults.

In the most recent set of data, from the December 2022 quarter, the number had risen to close to 2.4 percent.

In June 2022, more than 32 percent of all prisoners in the country were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The Council acknowledged the "significant role" they play in reducing the rate of First Nations adults in custody by at least 15 per cent by 2031.

"All Attorneys-General acknowledged the need to do better, collectively, to improve justice outcomes for First Nations Australians," the SCAG said in a statement.

"Participants agreed that all jurisdictions have a responsibility to consider justice policy Targets and Outcomes when making law and policy changes, noting our collective responsibility to meet the Targets by 2031."

Central to realising targets set out by the National Agreement on Closing the Gap, and a key pillar to incorporating principles and shared decision-making, is the Justice Policy Partnership (JJP) body made up of Coalition of Peaks (Indigenous peak bodies), coalition-appointed Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander experts, and Australian, state and territory governments.

The JJP will be invited to speak at the next Standing Council of Attorneys-General.

A national increase to the criminal age of responsibility looks to have gained traction as well.

The Council acknowledged the report from the Age of Criminal Responsibility Working Groups "to be delivered to the Standing Council of Attorneys-General ahead of its next meeting, which will focus on how jurisdictions may support children diverted from the criminal justice system, particularly First Nations children".

"Participants acknowledged the progress made by the Northern Territory, the Australian Capital Territory and Victoria to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility," the SCAG said.

Ongoing commitments and progress into justice reinvestment delivery and rollout around the country were "noted".

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