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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health Performance Framework - Summary report


Criminal justice systems are the responsibility of state and territory governments. Each jurisdiction has its own legislation, and policies and practices in relation to courts, corrections and policing. Education, employment, income, and housing disparities are not only associated with a large part of the health gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, but also with imprisonment among Indigenous Australians (Pricewaterhouse Coopers 2017).

Two Closing the Gap targets relate to overrepresentation of Indigenous Australians in the criminal justice system: reducing the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults held in incarceration by at least 15 per cent by 2031 (Target 10), and reducing the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people (10‑17 years) in detention by at least 30 per cent by 2031 (Target 11) – see Targets 10 and 11 in the Closing the Gap Information Repository.

Most Indigenous Australians have never been imprisoned (ABS 2016c). However, they have contact with the criminal justice system – as both offenders and victims – at much higher rates than non-Indigenous Australians (SCRGSP 2016).

As at 30 June 2021, there were 13,039 Indigenous adults in prison. Of these:

  • 9 in 10 (90%, 11,781) were male and
  • 2 in 5 (40%, 5,271) were aged 25–34.

The rate of imprisonment among Indigenous adults (2,223 per 100,000 population) was 14 times the rate of non-Indigenous adults in 2021. The median aggregate sentence (total length of imprisonment if an offender committed multiple offences) for Indigenous prisoners was lower, with 73% of Indigenous prisoners sentenced under 5 years compared with 52% for non-Indigenous prisoners. Over the decade between 2012 and 2021, based on the age-standardised rates, there was a 40% and 28% increase in the rate of imprisonment for Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults, respectively.

In 2020–21, a total of 4,092 Indigenous young people were under youth justice supervision at some time during the year. Of these, 86% (3,501) were aged 10–17 and 14% (591) were aged 18 and over.

On an average day in 2020–21 there were 1,697 Indigenous young persons aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision (AIHW 2021).

In 2020–21, on an average day, Indigenous young people (117 per 10,000 population) were 16 times as likely to be under youth justice supervision than non-Indigenous (7.2 per 10,000) young people.

Over the decade from 2011–12 to 2020–21, the rate of Indigenous young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision decreased by 29%, and the gap with non-Indigenous young people narrowed by 28% (Figure 5.7).  

Figure 5.7: Youth justice supervision rate on an average day during 2011–12 and 2020–21 (youth aged 10–17); and age-standardised adult imprisonment rate, by Indigenous status, from 2012 to 2021

The first line chart shows that the rate of Indigenous children in youth detention decreased from 185 per 10,000 in 2011–12 to 117 per 10,000 in 2020–21, while the rate for non-Indigenous children ranged from 14 to 7 per 10,000 over the period. The second line chart shows that the age-standardised rate of adult imprisonment for Indigenous Australians increased from 1,574 per 100,000 in 2012 to 2,223 per 100,000 in 2021, and the rate for non-Indigenous Australians increased from 130 to 164 per 100,000 over the same period.

Note: Youth justice supervision presents the rate of young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision on an average day. The ABS National Prisoner Census of adult imprisonment is a census of all persons in the legal custody of adult corrective services in all states and territories as at midnight 30 June of the reference year. Data in Qld prior to 2019 include people aged 17.

Sources: Measure 2.11, Table D2.11.1 – AIHW Youth Justice National Minimum Dataset (YJ NMDS); and Measure 2.11, Table D2.11.12 – AIHW analysis of ABS National Prisoner Census data.

Based on self-reported data from the 2014–15 National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey:

  • nearly half (48%) of Indigenous men aged 15 and over had ever been formally charged by the police
  • 1 in 5 (20%) had been arrested in the previous 5 years
  • 1 in 20 (5.3%) had been imprisoned in the previous 5 years.

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