• Subject Name : Criminology

Aboriginal Deaths in Custody

Table of Contents


Institutional factors- over-representation of Indigenous people.

Community Corrections Strategy- CBO’s.




Introduction to Alternatives to Indigenous Imprisonment

The Muirhead Commission, commonly known as the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC), conducted a study on the custodian deaths of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The study highlighted several issues of deaths which were found to be suspicious by their family members (Grabosky, 1988). Australian governments in addressing the issue deployed several policies. Alternative sentencing amongst one such measure can be a method which has the potential to tackle the situational crisis. This report to construct a principled as well theoretical argument thereby considering the alternatives to Indigenous imprisonment. The demography considered under this report will pertain to Indigenous people. The report will also discuss the structural or the institutional factors which impacted the Indigenous over-representation along with the community correctional strategies for those factors. While analysing the community corrections penalty option, the emphasis is given to the Community-Based order. This report will also provide critical analysis for the intervention strategy along with its effectiveness, followed by a conclusion.

Institutional Factors- Over-Representation of Indigenous People

The over-representation of the Indigenous people is developed from the systemic racism as well as discrimination based on the colonialism, poverty, racism, etc. affects and causes a disparity in not only health but also in social and emotional wellbeing. A recently published report highlights that 28% of the total prison inmates consisted of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people (Prisoners in Australia, 2019). As the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia account to as little as 3.3% of the population of Australia (Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2018), so this can be considered as extreme over-representation. The experiences of Indigenous women are more severe compared to men and thus suffers immeasurable harm (Ogloff, et al., 2017). A survey conducted on the Aboriginal people who are in prison is of the opinion that they showcase psychological distress, supported with depression followed by anxiety and also trauma since they are living separately and detached from their children and families (Sullivan, et al., 2019).

The high-profile findings of the Royal Commission along with the causal factors rotate around the fact that the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offence along with the structural barriers impedes them in successfully transiting back into the society. Even after three decades following the Royal Commission custodial deaths are increasing at an alarming rate (Allam, et al., 2018). The institutional factors which are the significant problems see the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as the one belonging to a suspicious community. A study found that certain things are engraved within their minds, where the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are of the opinion that they upon their will definitely be returned to the prison (Honorato, et al., 2016).

Community Corrections Strategy- CBO’s

Community- based order is the sentencing option based on the court orders where the unpaid works are performed by the offenders for public benefits. A community service order in adherence with s 8 of the (Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act, 1999) and also as defined under section 62 of the (Sentencing Act, 1995), is the most plausible and a viable action which will shrink the over-representation as well as the recidivism for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. This penal measure has significant importance since this can effectively reduce the over-representation of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander within four walls of the prison cell. As the offenders are engaged in the community work, so punitive measure acts as a deterrence thereby causing a massive reduction in the commission of the crime for the re-offenders. Reduction of recidivism is of utmost importance for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders since that will then cause reduction within the criminal justice system. If recidivism is reduced then court appearances will see a stark decrease within the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders. Criminal behaviour can be controlled with stringent supervision followed by targeted treatment (Smith, et al., 2018).

Analysis of Alternatives to Indigenous Imprisonment

When an offence is committed by a person and can be punished with imprisonment, then that person can also be sentenced to the community service order. Certain hours of community service can be ordered by the Court for completing within a stipulated time. Furthermore, the Courts can also impose conditions so that the offenders can be educated and trained. However, the availability of this order is not uniform and lacks immensely in remote or rural areas. Again, there is specific evidence which suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offenders, in comparison with non-Indigenous offenders, do not receive such orders and comprises of one-fifth that is 21% of all the persons who are serving the community-based orders (Corrective Services- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons serving CBC orders, 2020). Again, the initiatives so taken as the corrective measure do not essentially decrease the imprisonment rates. Furthermore, the probation orders are more frequently opted for than the community-based sentences. The budget and the funding for the community- based orders to that of the prison services varies greatly (Corrective services- Funding, 2018). It is evident that the non- custodial sanctions are administered through community corrections so that the offenders after coming in contact with the community can be subjected to corrective supervision. On the other hand, if Customary Law and Sentencing, another form of correctional strategy is considered, then placing reliance on the customary law cannot make an offence less grave. So, the community service order is the most plausible alternative to Indigenous imprisonment.

Conclusion on Alternatives to Indigenous Imprisonment

The basic underlying goals which can be attributed to the process of corrections can be categorised under four heads comprising of retribution, rehabilitation, deterrence, and also incapacitation. Community- based order is without any doubt beneficial for not only the offenders but also for their families. Staying with families or taking part in rehabilitation programs can bring the offenders back to normal lives and will also lessen the recidivism, which will benefit the community at large. So, community- based order in the form of corrections are highly beneficial and needs to be accepted as an alternative to Indigenous imprisonment.

References for Alternatives to Indigenous Imprisonment

Allam, L., Wahlquist, C. & & Evershed, N., 2018. The 147 dead: terrible toll of Indigenous deaths in custody spurs calls for reform. [Online]
Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2018/aug/28/the-147-dead-indigenous-leaders-demand-action-over-unacceptable-deaths-in-custody

Corrective Services- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons serving CBC orders, 2020. Corrective Services- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons serving CBC orders, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Corrective services- Funding, 2018. Corrective services- Funding. [Online]
Available at: https://www.pc.gov.au/research/ongoing/report-on-government-services/2018/justice/corrective-services/rogs-2018-partc-chapter8.pdf

Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act, 1999. Crimes (Sentencing Procedure) Act. [Online]
Available at: http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/nsw/consol_act/cpa1999278/s8.html

Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, 2018. Estimates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, s.l.: Australian Bureau of Statistics.

Grabosky, P. N., 1988. Aboriginal deaths in custody: the case of John Pat. Race & Class, 29(3), pp. 87-95.

Honorato, B., Caltabiano, N. & Clough, A. R., 2016. From trauma to incarceration: exploring the trajectory in a qualitative study in male prison inmates from north Queensland, Australia. Health Justice, 4(3).

Ogloff, JE, P., SM, S. & J., C., 2017. Assessing the Mental Health, Substance Abuse, Cognitive Functioning, and Social/Emotional Well-Being Needs of Aboriginal Prisoners in Australia. J Correct Health Care, 23(4), pp. 398-411.

Prisoners in Australia, 2019. Prisoners in Australia, Canberra: Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Sentencing Act, 1995. Sentencing Act. [Online]
Available at: http://classic.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/wa/consol_act/sa1995121/s62.html

Smith, Heyes, Fox & J, H., 2018. The effectiveness of probation supervision towards reducing reoffending: A Rapid Evidence Assessment. Probation Journal, 65(4), pp. 407-428.

Sullivan, S, K., S, C. & al., e., 2019. Aboriginal mothers in prison in Australia: a study of social, emotional and physical wellbeing. Aust N Z J Public Health, 43(3), pp. 241-247.

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