Federal Government plans to defund the peak National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services will exacerbate the appalling over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prison, Close the Gap co-chair Kirstie Parker said today.
“Aboriginal people are locked up at 14 times the rate of other Australians. We’ve seen a rise in the rates of incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of 50% in the past 10 years compared to 5% for the rest of the population. We need better funded Aboriginal Legal Aid services, not cuts,” Ms Parker said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people already suffer higher rates of mental illness which has significant consequences for contact with the justice system,” Ms Parker said.
“We also know that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) are more likely to come into contact with the criminal justice system.
“ATSILS have provided frontline legal assistance in criminal, family and civil law to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples for over 40 years and are uniquely attuned to the needs of their communities, their effectiveness has been proved time and time again.”
Campaign co-chair Mick Gooda, who is also the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, said the cuts directly target ATSILS work with governments to address the underlying causes of Indigenous incarceration.
“ATSILS delivers a significant amount of community legal education to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples better understand the justice system and learn how to resolve disputes before they escalate into more serious matters,” Mr Gooda said.
“The Federal Government’s decision to cut funding for these essential legal services will further entrench Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as second class citizens.
“ATSILS’ work addresses the underlying causes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ over-representation in the justice system. We need more investment in this kind of prevention and early intervention work, not less.
“I urge the Federal Government to recognise the critical importance of ATSILS’ work in prevention and early intervention, and reverse its decision to cut funding for these essential services.”
Media contacts: Dominic O’Grady for Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda. M: 0419 258 597
Liz Willis for National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples co-chair, Kirstie Parker. M: 0457 877 408