Northern Territory still failing to close the gap on Indigenous incarceration

Indigenous incarceration rates in the Northern Territory have shown no improvement since the NT Intervention over a decade ago, according to an updated report from Monash University’s Castan Centre for Human Rights Law (‘the Castan Centre’).

The NT Intervention was enacted by the Federal Government in August 2007, and is still failing to achieve Australia’s goal of closing the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians

Indigenous incarceration rates continue to rise, according to the Castan Centre’s ‘The Northern Territory Intervention: An Evaluation’ report.

The report rates progress on Indigenous incarceration at 0/10, remaining the same as in 2016.

“We must focus on the urgent issue of incarceration rates, as Indigenous Australians continue to be incarcerated at a rate about twelve times that of other Australians,” lead researcher Dr Stephen Gray said.

“We need to raise the age of criminal responsibility for children, and permit the courts to take customary law into account in sentencing”.

The report is a follow-up to an initial 2016 report and comes after last week’s 12th anniversary of the Parliament of Australia’s formal apology to Indigenous Australians, and the tabling of the 12th Closing the Gap report in Federal Parliament.

The report finds small improvements in NT Indigenous health and education, some recent reduction in rates of violence, but no improvement in incarceration rates and a continuing lack of respect for human rights.

"We have not fared well on most criteria, including employment, education, and most health measures,” Dr Stephen Gray said.

“We need to re-focus and re-commit, not defer the targets to some unspecified future time.

The report rates the NT’s success in Indigenous Employment and Economic Participation at 2/10 (down from 3/10 in 2016). This is largely due to the discontinuation of the Community Development Employment Projects, the lack of work opportunities following the end of the mining boom, lack of transport infrastructure, low education levels and investment uncertainty due to land tenure changes.

“Indigenous child mortality has dropped slightly. Life expectancy figures are still worse for Indigenous people in the NT than anywhere else in Australia,” Dr Gray said.

“Employment has fallen, and Indigenous imprisonment rates continue to rise.

“The Federal Government must re-commit to Closing the Gap targets, human rights, and reduction in incarceration rates,” Dr Gray said.

“We need to look more closely at human rights issues for Indigenous people in the NT, including the disproportionate impact of measures like the cashless welfare card”.

Read more of Stephen’s work on Indigenous incarceration and failure to close the gap at Monash Lens.