Published date: 
Thursday, August 20, 2020

To read the open letter, click here.

More than 300 criminologists, lawyers and other academics from across Australia have signed an open letter calling on all Australian governments to take urgent action to address the over-criminalisation and over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The letter was initiated by members of the Centre for Crime, Law and Justice (CCLJ) at UNSW as a way of supporting ‘the voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have been campaigning for justice on these issues for decades.’

The open letter catalogues the disturbing and overwhelming evidence of massive over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons, and as targets of police surveillance, enforcement and violence. The complete failure of Australian governments to act on recommendations of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice report (tabled in March 2018) comes in for particular criticism.

Signatories to the letter assert that the time has come to ‘stop investing in punitive criminal justice responses which trap people in cycles of imprisonment and disadvantage and instead refocus these resources on the social and economic needs of communities.’

CCLJ Co-director, Professor Luke McNamara, points out that such an approach would be entirely consistent with the recommendations of the ALRC: ‘One of the major recommendations from the Pathways to Justice report is that governments should commit to “justice reinvestment” as an approach to crime prevention and safety that builds rather than damages communities.’

The open letter – which has been delivered to the Commonwealth Attorney General, Christian Porter, and all state and territory AGs – contains a five point call to action:

  • investment in effective diversion for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people caught in criminal justice cycles;
  • raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age;
  • an end to ever-increasing police and corrections budgets;
  • investment in community services and structural initiatives led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people;
  • real government support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ calls for self-determination, control and voice, and for significant social and economic investment in their communities.