Over-Policing among the Australian Indigenous Communities

Essay, 2016

12 Pages


Over-Policing among the Australian Indigenous Communities

Cunneen, (2001) in Australia, the Aboriginal Australians in prisons and courts are grossly over-represented. There have been financial, consultative, and democratic efforts geared towards addressing the issue not only by the Federal Government but also the State. However, despite the efforts to probe on this itching issue for years, no changes have been successfully established. According to Gosford (2011 p1), in the Northern Territory, most youths in custody have been remanded. In a broad view, the problem arises from disrupted work opportunities, cultural and education opportunities, stigmatization, community and family fracture, and social isolation. Thus, Cunneen, (2001), people from the indigenous community continue to die in prison, be incarcerated, sentenced and apprehended in prison. The existing inexorable process is said to have its root cause from the police. While this could be a debatable fact, this research will examine the mode of over-policing among the indigenous people and how that differs from the non-indigenous community in Australia. Thus, the essay supports that the indigenous population is policed differently compared to the non-indigenous people.

From statistics, there is over-representation of the indigenous people within the criminal justice systems in Australia. However, some researches do not concur with the argument and the notion as purported by various individuals. Nevertheless, indigenous over-representation issue has always lagged behind within the public debate and only tragedy incidents or high profile inquiries trigger media coverage of the topic (Alsbury, 2001 p1; Jennett, 1999 p4). For instance, in 1987 the Royal Commission was appointed to investigate such inquiries concerning death rates of indigenous people within police custody. This was so as the death toll among the indigenous detainees in prisons was quite alarming as it amounted to 99 cases. The commission did conclude that, there was over-representation rate among the indigenous people in jail. This led to high mortality rates among the indigenous people in the custody as compared to the non-indigenous communities (Alsbury, 2001 p1). Cunneen (2008 p1), further, the commission found that the police did not offer ultimate care to the detainees while in custody.

Going forward, it is good to understand the general population overview in Australia. According to the 2006 Australian Bureau of Statistics, about 517, 000 Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginal people did live in Australia. Generally, indigenous people are about 2.5% of the whole Australian population. Inferring from the 2006 indigenous population census, 20, 100 (4%) persons comprised a mixture of Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal origin, with 33, 300 (6%) being Torres Strait Islander and 463,700 (90%) were of Aboriginal origin. About 32% indigenous people in 2006 resided in main urban centers, with 21% living in inner regional and 22%lived in outer regional localities and 9% and 15% lived in remote and very remote areas respectively. Although, most indigenous people live in urban centers, unlike the non-indigenous population, the indigenous population is highly diverse across the country making up the majority living in the Northern Australia and most areas which are quite remote (Dudgeon, Wright, Paradies et al., 2008 p25).

Unfortunately, indigenous over-representation issue is quite complex with interplay aspects that involve basic causal factors including historical, political, societal and economic factors. Those mostly affected by over-policing behavior live in rural and remote areas (Walker and MacDonald, 1995 p1-3; Albsudry, 2001 p1; Berry and Crowe, 2009 p2). The issue of over-representation remains a burning issue among the indigenous communities. The problem might not be reduced in a night; it requires a long-term approach with active involvement of the criminal justice system participants, police, the government as well as the indigenous people (Nicholas, 2007 p2). Further, the challenge to the solution is that these issues are only tackled when an alarming problem arises and the tasking group only resolves the burning issue and relaxes to await another episode. Thus, the solution to the menace requires fulltime commitment to address the matter regardless of criminal justice issue among the disadvantaged community (Albsudry, 2001 p1).

Studies show that, most of the people behind bars come from very disadvantaged backgrounds. Constituting this category are the Torres Strait Islanders and the Aboriginal Australians. Further, to end over-representation within the system of criminal justice, the issue ought to address the disadvantage peril (Smart Justice, org.au, 2011, p1). According to statistics, the indigenous people compared to the non-indigenous people are 48 times likely to have youth imprisoned, 23.7 times likely to have adult imprisoned, 6.2 times likely to have lower courts incarceration and 9.2 times likely to get arrested (Albsudry, 2001 p2).

Unfortunately, the general indigenous community’s population is about 2.5% of the whole Australian population, yet about 90% of those in prisons make up the indigenous community. In the criminal justice system, the young natives are also over-represented. In 1994 June to 1997 June, the number of Indigenous juveniles in detention rose by 20%; with 32% of detained youths in 1999 July being indigenous youths in Australia. Further, the indigenous women are not excluded either in the criminal justice system (Absurdy, 2001 p2). The female gender in the indigenous community is more over-represented compared to their non-indigenous female counterparts as homicide offenders (Mouzos, 2001 p4). This puts a nonsensical picture that indigenous communities are likely to break the law since they are indigenous. Also, this puts forth a contention that there is over-representation of the indigenous people as they are likely to commit a high number of criminal offenses an indicator of oversimplification (Wong. n.d., p3; Absurdy, 2001 p2). Rudin, (2005 p1) this explains the reason why police underestimate the indigenous community and less likely to listen to them. Cunneen, (2005 p134), but what can one make up from a ratio of one police is to 73 persons for instance in Wilcannia in NSW among other remote and rural town? It is over-policing of the highest degree. Hence, over-representation among the indigenous population in the system of the criminal justice can be argued objectively as a result of, “increased rate of recidivism, increased rate of offending from the indigenous people, decreased rate of diversionary program referrals, and in general police and the criminal justice system approach to discriminate against the indigenous community, p2” (Absurdy, 2001 p2).

The Royal Commission of 1991 regarding Aboriginal Custody Deaths identified the historical disadvantage among the indigenous communities in Australia as the primary cause of over-representation (Cunneen 2008 p1). The commission did recommend that to address the difficulties inherent in these traditional communities there was a need for improved housing and health, better education, and increased self-determination. Unfortunately, 20 years down the line Torres Strait Islanders and the Aboriginal Australians not only remain the most disadvantaged communities in Australia but also suffer from exclusion, marginalization, and dispossession experiences. In the years from 2000-2008, there was an increase in the rate of imprisonment by 46% among the women of the Torres Strait Islanders and Aboriginals and 27% increase rate for men in the same population group. In 2008, compared to the non-indigenous population the indigenous community was 13 times likely to be imprisoned. In 2008; 36% youths under supervision in the juvenile justice were from the indigenous community. These statistics are quite disturbing more so because as per survey it was noted that there exist a strong correlation between adult offending and juvenile offending. This is so as one study concluded that in every ten indigenous young people in the juvenile system nine did appear in the adult court in a period of eight years. This rate remains alarming as compared to the non-indigenous the case was nine times more among the indigenous population (Smart Justice.org.au, 2011, p1; Catto and Thomson, 2010 p7).

Over-representation is a present active issue that has yet to face a solution. Questions are all over what causes the problem. According to Smart Justice.org.au, (2011 p1), the over-representation as an issue is caused by a myriad of factors among the indigenous communities. Further, the traditional system of criminal justice has inherent paucity in how it handles the offending. Cunneen, (2006 p332) under the Australian law, indirect racial discrimination, and racial discrimination is prohibited. It would be realistic for the criminologists to investigate this matter and its trade in the unlawful behavior. Indirect discrimination is likely to offer productive research outcome as indirect discrimination prohibition works to combat such acts seen to be “facially neutral” yet have an adverse impact on a group of people or an individual sharing common attributes like race. Various findings show that the indirect discrimination is a reason behind the indigenous population over-representation within the system of the criminal justice. This has been so as is portrayed in the discretionary decision within the system of the juvenile justice as well as the mainstream program provision among the indigenous young detainee programs as the programs provided do not link with the cultural requirement of the youth in the indigenous communities. This could explain the reason behind the Royal Commission inquiry into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody within the 212 recommendation to address the indirect discrimination whose potentiality lays plainly in the existing entrenched institutional practices that have remained unchallengeable for decades. The Equal Opportunity Commission, Human Rights, and the Commission of State Equal Opportunity ought to be motivated to consult this linked Aboriginal legal services and aboriginal organizations with objectives to develop measures that may encourage and facilitate aboriginal people to maximize anti-discrimination models in an effective manner, more so in the aspect of representative action and indirect discrimination.

In regards to indirect racial discrimination, this might be quite enormous arising within the justice, health, training, education and employment. Unfortunately, however, there is little work carried by the criminologists addressing the way forward to indirect racial discrimination within the system of the criminal justice, and that may address the profound unlawful behavior against minorities and indigenous people. Unfortunately as per expertise findings, there is no large crime research firm public-funded as the New South Wales Statistics and Research Bureau, or the Australian Criminology Institute has carried out a survey on the matter. Williams-Mozley (1998 p4), this shows how the government agencies linked with the system of criminal justice have been reluctant to study the issue or remain too sensitive in regards to government-sponsored criminology.

In Simmons, (2009 p1) findings on over-policing did point that those likely to enter in jail among the indigenous community are likely to have been cases of alcohol and drug abuse linking these to indigenous population over-representation in jail among minor issue like street offensive language. The report which raised eyebrows among other keen experts including the Williams-Mozley, a criminologist, and the USQ’s indigenous education director pointed loopholes in the report. The reality is that the police are likely to arrest indigenous Australian in a rate 20 times higher compared to the non-indigenous people. From historical perspectives, the policing institution has embraced various practices that result to the indigenous people in Australia leading to their custody and arrest rates over-representation subsequently resulting to the jail population over-representation. Williams-Mozley added that the statistics indicating that about a quarter of men in prisons, a third of women in prison, and 50% of juveniles’ detainees are indigenous were truly correct following over-policing. Studies show that the police are highly stationed in various areas in rural and remote centers compared to the urban centers provoking their over-surveillance nature, unlike other areas.


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Over-Policing among the Australian Indigenous Communities
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Sa Ngugi (Author), 2016, Over-Policing among the Australian Indigenous Communities, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/334447


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