Author Lucy Snowball and Don Weatherburn
Published September 2006
Report Type Crime and Justice Bulletin No. 99
Subject Aboriginal / Indigenous Australians; Prisons and prisoners
Keywords indigenous imprisonment, indigenous offenders, over-representation

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This bulletin presents the results of research bearing on two questions regarding Indigenous imprisonment. Whether there is any difference in the rate at which Indigenous and non-Indigenous offenders are sentenced to imprisonment and which factors account for the difference in the rate at which Indigenous and non-Indigenous offenders are sent to prison.


Fifteen years ago the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody drew attention to the fact that the rate of imprisonment of Indigenous Australians was 13 times higher than the corresponding rate for nonIndigenous Australians. Efforts to reduce Indigenous imprisonment rates over the intervening period have met with little success. Indeed, over the last few years, the rate of Indigenous imprisonment has increased. The research reported here had two main objectives. The first was to determine whether there is any evidence of racial bias in the sentencing of Indigenous offenders. The second was to determine what other factors account for the higher proportion of Indigenous offenders sentenced to terms of imprisonment. The research revealed no evidence of racial bias in sentencing. The higher rate at which Indigenous offenders are sent to prison stems mainly from (a) a higher rate of conviction for violent crime and (b) a higher rate of re-offending, particularly following the imposition of sanctions intended as alternatives to full-time imprisonment. The implications of these findings for policy are discussed.