Almost half of the youths under supervision in Australia are from our First Nations families

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare's latest report on youth justice has revealed a significant drop in the number of young people within the system, especially in New South Wales and Victoria. However, concern remains over the fact that almost half of the total numbers of youths under supervision are Indigenous.
Transcript from World News Radio

Marc Tong World News Radio 17 April 2014

On an average day between 2012 and 2013, there were over 6300 young people aged 10 to 17 years old under justice supervision.

The Institute of Health and Welfare report says that's compared to over 7300 a year earlier.

The numbers relate to young people across Australia under supervision either in the community or locked in detention.

Head of the Child Welfare and Prisoner Health Unit at the Institute, Tim Beard, says the biggest drops have been among young males, and those in community-based supervision.

"When you put those two factors together you see an overall decrease across the board. A couple of the larger jurisdictions have seen pretty substantial falls in the last couple of years so there are probably some very strong programs happening both in New South Wales and Victoria that are leading to these falls in the rates and the numbers, but having said that we are seeing consistent drops across the country."

There was a decrease of five per cent in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths under supervision.

But the rate, when compared to the non-Indigenous figures, continues to be alarming.

More than 2500, or almost half of total youths in supervision, were Indigenous.

Tim Beard explains how the disproportionate rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth have increased, even though the numbers have fallen.

"Relative to their non-Indigenous counterparts it hasn't improved at all. They are about 17 times as likely to be under youth justice supervision. The numbers are coming down for Indigenous young people but they are just not coming down as fast for non-Indigenous so they have dropped by about five per cent over the last five years which is still I guess what you call the right direction. But the non-Indigenous numbers are coming down even faster than that so we are actually seeing a relative increase in their over-representation."

Amnesty International's Indigenous Rights Campaigner Rodney Dillon is part of a team researching for a justice report focusing on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth.

The report is concentrating on Western Australia, Queensland and the Northern Territory where he says Indigenous young people in the justice system are highest.

Rodney Dillon says the team hopes to find evidence that could break the cycle of Indigenous juvenile justice.

"What we are trying to match: is Aboriginal kids getting the same justice as what the wider community is getting. So we are looking at those sort of issues. We are looking at when children are locked up. We are looking at why they keep on repeating and what's happening here. It's very hard to do this sort of research because you have to do it with legal services, you have got to talk to judges and it is very hard to talk to some of the juvenile kids because the kids don't want to talk to you about this."

In New South Wales, an Indigenous health researcher has found that some young Aboriginal people see going to jail as a rite of passage.

Ivan Clarke is with the New South Wales Health Education Centre Against Violence, under the state's Ministry of Health.

He says breaking the mindset of Aboriginal children with a family history in the justice system will be difficult.

"It can be quite normalised for the third or the fourth generation to think that it's a rite of passage to go to jail to be a man. We had one community where we had a group of young men who were sitting around and talking about what jail they were going to go to when they grew up. And I had explained to them that you don't actually have a choice of which jail you go to and they were quite shocked by that. They honestly believed that they had a right to choose which jail they went to."

Tim Beard from the Institute of Health and Welfare says location also seems play a role in youth justice rates.

"When you look at remote and very remote areas, people living in those areas are also over-represented in that system. They are about six times as likely as people in major cities to end up in youth justice supervision so again the over-representation is reflected there. And there is obviously an Indigenous component to that statistic just because a lot of Indigenous communities are by definition in remote or very remote areas but I should point out that not everyone who lives in those areas is Indigenous."