Call to address Indigenous prison crisis

A TOP criminal lawyer has called on the government to take bold steps to address the over-representation of First Nations people in Queensland jails after research found Indigenous incarceration was increasing.

Potts Lawyers founding director Bill Potts (pictured) said the state risked "condemning" generations of people to life behind bars unless it addressed things that led to crime like poverty, mental health issues, addiction, unemployment and violence.

Research released this week by the Queensland Sentencing Advisory Council found that fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people committed offences across the board but that they were more likely to wind up behind bars.

Mr Potts said the solution called for "sophisticated and long-term" thinking that addressed the root of crime and not just the crimes.

"We just simply need to address those issues because if we don't we are condemning generations of First Nations people to the dark satanic mills of the justice system," he said.

Queensland Law Society held a panel discussion about Criminal Lawyers, pictured is Bill Potts, Brisbane Thursday 16th May 2019 Picture AAPImage/ David Clark
Queensland Law Society held a panel discussion about Criminal Lawyers, pictured is Bill Potts, Brisbane Thursday 16th May 2019 Picture AAPImage/ David Clark

"Without proper attempts to do something about it we are going to have lost generations. "The problem will escalate."

Retired judge and council chair John Robertson said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders represented almost 4 per cent of Queensland's population (aged 10 years and over) but disproportionately accounted for 14.5 per cent of the cases sentenced.

The council's report found the most common offences for which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were sentenced were justice and government offences including breach of justice orders and public order offences.

Mr Potts said that solutions like high visibility policing and new jails were an easy option but, would not solve the problem.

"It may be an unpopular thing. We are hooked on the sugar hit of 'lock them up and throw away the key'," he said.

"In essence all we are doing is warehousing the problem because kids are going to grow up and they are going to inhabit the jail system over and over again.

"It is actually time for much more nuanced thinking and to not just talk about solving the issues but actually spending the money and taking real, practical, hard steps to address those issues."

Originally published as Call to address Indigenous prison crisis



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