New South Wales should have legislation to require courts to take account of Aboriginal customary laws, when relevant, in sentencing Aboriginal people, according to a report released today by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission.
The Commission's Report also recommends pilot schemes for circle sentencing and adult conferencing which are tailored specifically for Aboriginal people.
The Commission's Report found that, while the existing laws of sentencing are for the most part sufficiently flexible to take account of the circumstances of Aboriginal offenders, there is a clear need to continue to develop alternatives to imprisonment. Judges and magistrates sentencing Aboriginal offenders need to have more sentencing options available to them.
Commenting on the Report, Justice Michael Adams, Chairperson of the Commission, said,
'The over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system is well-documented. However, the fact that this disparity appears to be increasing, and the very high rate of recidivism for Aboriginal offenders, are matters of great concern'.
Justice Adams continued,
'While the reasons for this over-representation are complex and multi-faceted, a significant contributing factor is the socially, economically and culturally disadvantaged position of many Aboriginal people. Clearly, the criminal justice system cannot solve these problems, but the sentencing options available to judges can be made more culturally appropriate, and address the issue of recidivism'.
The Commission's Report also notes that Aboriginal women offenders have largely been ignored in the debate about Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system. In fact, Aboriginal women are over-represented in prison to an even greater extent than Aboriginal men. The Commission makes a number of recommendations directed specifically at female Aboriginal offenders.
The Commission's Report on the sentencing of Aboriginal offenders is part of a major ongoing review of the laws of sentencing in New South Wales. The Commission published a report on the general principles of sentencing in 1996, which was implemented by legislation enacted in 1999. This Report focuses on the special issues relating to the sentencing of Aboriginal offenders.
The Report is available on the Commission's web page at
www.lawlink.nsw.gov.au/lrc. Copies may be obtained from the Commission by email (email@example.com) or telephone (02) 9228 8230.
For further information, contact Justice Adams, Chairperson on (02) 9230 8737, or Ms Catherine Gray, Senior Legal Officer on (02) 9228 8230