A lack of culturally appropriate diversionary and rehabilitation programs, inadequate funding for legal support and limited use of Circle Sentencing and Koori Courts are factors contributing to the disproportionately high incarceration rates of Aboriginal people.

This was among the conclusions discussed at a recent series of justice forums held by the Aboriginal Legal Service in New South Wales and the ACT.

The ALS said the state-wide forums had provided it with important feedback on how community-designed solutions could help tackle the over-representation of Aboriginal people behind bars.

More than 250 members of the community turned out for the forums at Coffs Harbour, Redfern, Nowra, Moree and Dubbo, which gave them the chance to have a say on the issues affecting Aboriginal people within the state’s criminal justice system.

Aboriginal people make up 27 percent of Australia’s adult prison population, despite representing only three percent of the nation’s total population, the ALS said.

“Our people say laws are too punitive and that there aren’t enough community-based programs which focus on prevention and rehabilitation and help stop re-offending,” ALS chief executive officer Les Turner said.

“It’s important that programs are culturally-sensitive, designed and led by Aboriginal people, for Aboriginal people and must involve respected community elders.

“We heard first-hand from Aboriginal people who’ve been through the system that there are still big problems with licence laws, breaches of AVOs, family violence, drugs and alcohol, housing, education and mental health.

“They say there must be improved resourcing of support services, pre and post release, otherwise re-offending will only continue and families (will be) broken down.

“This is particularly crucial for Aboriginal women and their children as Aboriginal women comprise 30 percent of the NSW prison population. We need to keep our families strong and well-functioning so we develop resilient young people and more culturally rich communities.”

Mr Turner said the feedback from the forums would be used in an ALS submission to be lodged with the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Incarceration inquiry.

An online community justice survey is open until September 22 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/alsjustice.