THERE are fewer young Aboriginal people in detention than 10 years ago, despite public perceptions the numbers are growing, according to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, (BOCSAR) director Don Weatherburn.
Mr Weatherburn said, in particular, the number of young Aboriginal males behind bars for opportunistic crimes was the lowest in 12 years, attributing the improvement to programs keeping young people in education longer and dramatic drops in heroin-use in the Aboriginal community.
“From Redburn to Broken Hill it was heroin that wreaked havoc among Aboriginal communities. The use now compared to 2000 is a third of what it was,” he said.
However, Orange Aboriginal Legal Aid Solicitor Arjun Chabbra believes the number of young Aboriginal people coming before Orange court are high, reflecting higher numbers of young Aboriginal people in custody compared to the non-Indigenous community.
“They are 31 per cent more likely to end up in custody,” he said.
Mr Chabbra attributed a sometimes hard-line approach by police to the escalation of multiple breach of bail offences for behaviour young Aboriginal people found hard to change because of their culture.
“This is no reflection on the work of police, but some young people find it hard with an extended family to adhere to curfews. It could be something as simple as sleeping at a relative’s house for the night, or having dinner with their aunty and it’s counted as a breach,” he said.
“It could be for something relatively simple which could have been sorted out with greater communication, instead they are in custody for multiple breaches.
“Kinship and their extended community is very important to Aboriginal people and at times it would be really positive if police could show more discretion.”
Mr Weatherburn said improved employment prospects for young Aboriginal people was a major contributor to keeping them out of trouble.
However, he said, overall, regional areas such as Orange had not experienced the same drop in crime rates compared to the metropolitan areas of NSW.