ACT Council of Social Service Inc.

Justice | Equity | Social Inclusion | Reconciliation

Joint media release: Productivity Commission report reveals high rates of incarceration for Indigenous children in the ACT

20 January 2021

ACTCOSS and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services joint media release.

The ACT Council of Social Service (ACTCOSS) and Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services today expressed their deep concern over the high rates of incarceration of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the ACT detailed in a report just released.

Data from the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services (ROGS) 2021 revealed that the rate of Indigenous youth incarceration in the ACT in 2019-20 was at its highest since 2014-15.

Dr Campbell, ACTCOSS CEO, said: “The ROGS data tells us that there is significant overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people in detention in the ACT.

“At current levels, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children are locked up at 18 times the rate of non-Indigenous children. This is the highest rate of incarceration in the last five years and the highest rate in Australia.

“Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people spent 1,877 nights in custody in 2019-20 in the ACT compared with 1,073 days in 2018-19. That’s 804 more days that First Nations children slept behind bars in Canberra away from their family and community in 2019-20.

“The ROGS data also reveals the overrepresentation of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children and young people in out-of-home care. In 2019-20 the rate of children in care was over 72 per 1,000 children aged 0-17 years in the ACT – fourteen times higher than the rate for non-Indigenous children and well above the national rate.

Ms Julie Tongs OAM, CEO of Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services, said: “This report shows why the ACT Government needs to urgently implement all 28 recommendations from the Our Booris, Our Way report.

“By urgently acting on the Our Booris, Our Way report, the ACT Government can at last begin to address the systemic failures for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children involved with child protection in the ACT and ensure that Aboriginal children receive the care that they need.

“These figures highlight why we need additional investment to support Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children, youth and families and to build capacity of Aboriginal community-controlled organisations.

“We also call on the ACT Government to appoint an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Children’s Commissioner to the ACT Human Rights Commission.”

Dr Campbell said: “Urgent policy and legal reform are also needed. We are keen to see the ACT Government deliver on its commitment to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14 years of age as soon as possible.

“We need to build a child protection system capable of ensuring the safety and wellbeing of children while working to keep families together and/or connected. Implementing all recommendations of the Our Booris, Our Way review into the care and protection of Aboriginal children in the ACT will be critical to achieving this.

“Other urgent investments include the development of a First Nations Housing Strategy for the ACT including a pathway to a community-controlled Aboriginal housing organisation and the development of a comprehensive Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander policy statement,” Dr. Campbell said.   

Read the Productivity Commission’s ROGS report on youth justice here.

ACTCOSS advocates for social justice in the ACT and represents not-for-profit community organisations.

Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Services provides a culturally safe environment in which health and community services are provided that support the achievement of optimal health and social outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

For more information or comment, please contact
Dr Emma Campbell, CEO, ACTCOSS, on 0424 910 617 or 02 6202 7200.