The Centre for Crime, Law and Justice stands in solidarity with the Aboriginal Lives Matter and Black Lives Matter movements and calls out the systemic racism of the Australian criminal justice system.
It is an undisputable fact that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are overrepresented in the Australian criminal justice system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent 2% of the population but 28% of the prison population. The overrepresentation rate for women and children is even higher. Since the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was released in 1991, there have been at least 437 known Aboriginal and Torrest Strait Islander deaths in custody. There has been a severe lack of accountability for these deaths.
The criminal justice system has long been used as a tool to discriminate against and oppress Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Following the invasion of Australia, police were involved in massacres of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Police participated in the forcible removal of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children from their families during the decades long Stolen Generation era. The intergenerational trauma caused by this policy continues to have adverse impacts on the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including by contributing to poor socio-economic outcomes which increase the likelihood of contact with the criminal justice system.
More recently, the criminal justice system’s racism against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people can be seen in multiple ways. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are overpoliced: they are policed differently, and more extensively, than other communities. They are subject to surveillance and monitoring that produces offences and arrests. We recognise that this experience is not unique to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and that other ethnic communities are also subject to forms of overpolicing throughout Australia. Institutional racism permeates the criminal justice system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are detrimentally impacted and disadvantaged with respect to bail laws, access to diversionary schemes, and mandatory sentencing.
As criminal justice researchers we know there is a wealth of evidence supporting pathways to community safety that do not involve destructive reliance on police powers, prisons and punishment. As the Australian Law Reform Commission has emphasised, justice reinvestment should be strongly supported. Justice reinvestment involves re-directing funding from police, prisons and other criminal justice institutions, and investment in communities. By working with communities and investing in social initiatives such as education, housing and healthcare, justice reinvestment aims to empower communities and proactively address the causes of contact with the criminal justice system. Committing to justice reinvestment is just one of the evidence-based actions that could be taken to begin to reverse the damage done by conventional carceral approaches and move towards robust and safe communities.
We commend UNSW students for speaking out on these issues and add our support to the statements made by the UNSW Criminology Society and the UNSW Law Society. As a community of researchers we commit to studying issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system in partnership with communities, amplifying Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander voices and citing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander scholars, and using our expertise to influence policy makers and advocate for better criminal justice policies. We call on our colleagues throughout Australia to commit to the same. As educators committed to social justice we are determined to contribute to the decolonisation of curricula and creating inclusive spaces for students.
The UNSW Kensington campus is located on the traditional lands of the Bedegal people, over which sovereignty was never ceded.