There are about 450,000 Aboriginal people in Australia, and they often maintain a traditional way of life as hunters and gatherers. There are huge challenges for Indigenous people – employment problems, housing issues, difficulties with alcohol, and criminal challenges, but still; the Aboriginal population is growing steadily. Thus, it is essential to consider how the Australian criminal justice system works for Aboriginal Australians.
In contrast to the non-indigenous population, Aboriginal Australians are more often confronted by the Australian criminal justice system. Indigenous adults are fourteen times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous people, according to data provided by police officers. Also, one in fifteen young Indigenous people is currently in prison (Shirodkar, 2019). Thus, it can be argued that the younger generation is increasingly participating in the criminal justice system as prisoners. At the same time, the most common offense committed by Indigenous Australians is acts intended to cause harm. Aboriginal people are susceptible to reconviction in the Australian criminal justice system (Findlay, Odgers and Yeo, 2014). Moreover, almost half of those who are released from prison return within two years, and the total number of Indigenous recidivism is over seventy-five percent.
Significantly, Aboriginal people encounter the police for the first time in the criminal justice system. However, because of the high crime rates among Australia’s indigenous population, police have increased patrolling and contact with community members. This provides more opportunities for arrests, which are not always justified. The legislation provides the police with the power to decide whether to charge a person for a crime and direct them to a court or whether a warning can be chosen as a remedy. Significantly, the police declare. Indigenous people suspect criminal cases concerning intent to harm more often than they do for crimes related to illegal drugs (Cunneen and Tauri, 2019). In this way, aboriginal people are in contact with the criminal system, beginning with the interaction with the police and the arrest.
The next stage is trial and sentencing; however, it should be mentioned that Australia’s criminal justice system is improving because of the local courts. This is because judges pay more attention to the case study process and cultural sensitivity when interacting with and convicting Indigenous people. However, the Australian criminal justice system has recently been reformed, creating dedicated Indigenous sentencing courts. The context of aboriginal participation in such courts in sentencing would be changed (Radke and Douglas, 2020). That is, the number of formalities will be reduced, which will make it possible to show the indigenous population a non-hostile attitude. Thus, the event injustice aims to reduce crimes on the grounds of not being hostile to the indigenous people.
It must be pointed out that interactions with the police have a negative impact on Indigenous Australians and increase their level of involvement with the criminal system as offenders. It can be assumed that the effects of police activity with zero tolerance or lack of cultural or regional understanding increase the alienation and anger of Indigenous Australians. Consequently, there is a diminishing influence of social norms, such as respect for authority and the justice system in such cases. Compounding the problem is the fact that police training includes only minimal knowledge of Aboriginal culture. That is, police officers have only two days of education to understand the culture, which leads to conflict (Cunneen, 2020). At the same time, the highly intense activity and presence of the police on the indigenous community’s territory is also a problem.
Thus, locals protest and revolt because of the presence of police, which they do not trust, and as a consequence, commit crimes. In turn, police officers try to punish the residents by charging them and bringing them to court, even in the case of minor infractions. Therefore, even the Australian press has reported cases in which criminal justice officials have overstepped their authority (Brookman and Wiener, 2017). For example, when a twelve-year-old boy from an indigenous Australian community was accused of receiving stolen goods. Even though it turned out that he had obtained the chocolate from his friend and had not committed a crime.
The boy missed court hearings because he did not understand when the date was set; consequently, the police detained him for several hours. However, it is significant to mention that the court dismissed the accusation and pointed out that the actions of the police were not justified. It should be indicated that there are many such cases in police practice, so it can be argued that the police abused their powers (Shirodkar, 2019). Hence, the relationship between Aboriginal people and the police in Australia is strained because of abuse, racist discrimination, and bias.
Notably, there has also been a case that demonstrates discriminatory treatment of indigenous Australians. In 2015, Lex Wotton, who had been convicted of inciting a disturbance, filed a court complaint alleging that the Queensland police had neglected their duties and discriminated against the population (White, Perrone and Howes, 2019). The court ruled that the police did violate the law when they did not treat Indigenous Australians properly. Another reason for the increase in Aboriginal police cases is that most of Australia’s indigenous people do not speak English fluently. Consequently, they do not always understand their procedural rights and responsibilities or do not realize the charges against them at all. At the same time, criminal justice agencies, including the police and the courts, cannot always provide an interpreter, which automatically violates the rights of the defendant or accused. It is also significant to mention that the lawyer provided to the judge also does not always understand the defendant, accordingly, cannot effectively protect the rights of the accused. Thus, even this factor affects the increase in the number of participants in criminal proceedings.
In order to overcome the barrier between police officers and indigenous Australians, specific measures must be taken. First of all, the chief of police must meet with an Aboriginal leader to explain the position of the police and that it is aimed at protecting the rights and interests of indigenous people. At the same time, it is essential to mention that there may also be potential police officers among the indigenous population. That is, hiring Indigenous police officers as jurors or liaison officers could significantly improve the relationship between law enforcement and Indigenous Australians (Behrendt, 2021). Therefore, a police force with Indigenous officers can reduce mistrust and build positive police-community relations.
Accordingly, it can be an excellent example for young people who will try to fight for a just order rather than break the law to revolt against police authority. Thus, the example of the city of Redfern, where there has been an eighty percent reduction in the number of crimes committed, can demonstrate the success of this method (Brookman and Wiener, 2017). In order to reduce and eradicate the problem of abuse of power, it is crucial to support ‘the National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework objective to eliminate discriminatory attitudes, practices and impacts where they exist within police… agencies’ (Brookman and Wiener, 2017, p. 59). Therefore, it is essential to amend existing legislation in order to limit the freedom of action of the police.
At the same time, methods must be adopted to eradicate bias and discriminatory attitudes within the police force. This can be done by increasing funding; in this way, it would create special police services in the indigenous community. Consequently, it would help improve the relationship between police officers and natives. One way to succeed could be for police officers to coexist and work together with Indigenous Australians for some time. Accordingly, during this period, officers can understand regions’ culture and eliminate discriminatory practices (Brookman and Wiener, 2017). Those officers who pass such a test should work in the Indigenous community to reduce their involvement in crime. In order to provide every suspect or prisoner with an interpreter, more training is essential. In addition to interpreters, it is crucial to pay attention to the legal aid program for defendants who cannot pay for a lawyer themselves. Accordingly, attorneys should also speak the indigenous language but, at the same time, provide specific legal services. Consequently, such support for Indigenous people would mitigate their involvement as prisoners in the Australian criminal justice system.
Thus, discriminatory police attitudes, abuse of power, and lack of understanding of the English language are the main reasons for the imprisonment of many Aboriginal people. In order to reduce the representation of indigenous Australians, national programs of interpreters, translators, and lawyers must be supported. At the same time, it is necessary to train the police in cultural thinking and monitor their authority’s exercise. Consequently, relations between indigenous people and government officials will improve, and crime rates will decrease.
Behrendt, L. (2021) Indigenous Australia for dummies. Milton: John Wiley & Sons.
Brookman, R. P., and Wiener, K. K. (2017) ‘Predicting punitive attitudes: racial-animus towards new immigrant and aboriginal minority groups as a mediating agent upon public crime concerns’, World Journal of Social Science Research, 4(2), pp. 140-163.
Brookman, R. P. and Wiener, K. K. (2017) ‘Predicting punitive attitudes to sentencing: does the public’s perceptions of crime and Indigenous Australians matter?’, Australian & New Zealand Journal of Criminology, 50(1), pp. 56-77.
Cunneen, C. (2020) Conflict, politics and crime: aboriginal communities and the police. New York: Routledge.
Cunneen, C., and Tauri, J. M. (2019) ‘Indigenous peoples, criminology, and criminal justice’, Annual Review of Criminology, 2, pp. 359-381.
Findlay, M., Odgers, S., and Yeo S. (2014) Australian Criminal Justice. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
Radke, A., and Douglas, H. (2020) ‘Indigenous Australians, specialist courts, and the intergenerational impacts of child removal in the criminal justice system’, The International Journal of Children’s Rights, 28(2), pp. 378-400.
Shirodkar, S. (2019) ‘Bias against Indigenous Australians: implicit association test results for Australia’, Journal of Australian Indigenous Issues, 22(3-4), pp. 3-34.
White, R., Perrone, and Howes, L. M. (2019) Crime, criminality and criminal justice. Melbourne: Oxford University Press.