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“Good kid, mad system”: the role for health in reforming justice for vulnerable communities

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Let’s invest in better services for high-risk communities rather than in more prisons

Australia’s prisoner population is expanding at an unsustainable rate. Incarceration rates are higher than at any time since federation, and substantially higher than those in most western European countries.13 Incarceration rates of Indigenous Australians match those of African Americans; these are the most intensely incarcerated subpopulations in the world.1 The over-representation of Indigenous Australians in all stages of the justice system is one of Australia’s most significant social justice issues. Australian governments are grappling with the costs of building new prisons and, more broadly, fulfilling “tough-on-crime” agendas.4 At the same time, human rights arguments for reducing overincarceration of Indigenous peoples are aligning with the economic imperatives to contain prison costs.5

It is time to redesign our criminal justice system to redress the over-reliance on incarceration as the means of achieving safer communities. In Australia, the Human Rights Law Centre has joined the call to tackle the causes of crime. Director of International Advocacy, Ben Schokman, said: