The rate of Indigenous incarceration in the ACT will need to be cut by almost a quarter in the next 10 years to ensure the rate is eventually brought into line with non-Indigenous incarceration, the Justice and Community Safety Directorate says.
The reduction needed is significantly higher than the ACT government's current target, which is to reduce by 5 per cent the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in prison by 2028.
In a briefing provided to incoming Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury, the directorate said Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were over-represented across the ACT's justice system, and the need to address the issue was urgent.
The directorate estimated a drop of 24.4 per cent in the Indigenous incarceration rate was needed by 2031, and then a further drop of 83 per cent was needed by 2060 to achieve parity with the ACT's non-Indigenous incarceration rate.
"Although over-representation is a persistent and growing problem across Australia with incarceration rates increasing by 51 per cent between 2012 and 2018, the degree of urgency in the ACT is more acute with a 135 per cent increase over the same period. Moreover, diversion rates are low," the briefing, released under freedom of information laws, said.
Mr Rattenbury's Greens party committed to reducing the rate of incarceration of First Nations women and men to match non-Indigenous incarceration rates by 2030.
"It's an extremely ambitious goal but it's the sort of goal we must have if we're going to make a difference," Mr Rattenbury told the Sunday Canberra Times in November.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up approximately 1.9 per cent of the ACT's population, but make up approximately 23 per cent of the detainee population at the territory's prison.
"There are increasing 10-year trends in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander apprehensions, charges and arrests, as well as the proportion of apprehensions, charges and arrests that are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander. Non-Indigenous apprehensions and charges are stable," the briefing said.
"Diversion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are low and corresponding 10-year trends are decreasing. Charges are less likely to be cleared by formal diversion or caution than charges against non-Indigenous people."
The ACT government in August flagged a review of Indigenous incarceration rates, and its commitment to reducing recidivism rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait offenders by 25 per cent by 2025.
In a letter to Winnunga Nimmityjah chief executive Julie Tongs, who called for the review, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith and then Attorney-General Gordon Ramsay said they were concerned by growing incarceration rates and high rates of recidivism.
"We acknowledge that there is more to be done and that future work must be well-informed and appropriate," the letter, written in August, said.
The Justice and Community Safety Directorate said the review could take between one and two years. The directorate also said an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People's Commissioner could be in place within two years.
"Work could commence in late 2020 or early 2021 on developing and consulting on a model for the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children's Commissioner, informed by the findings of the Protection of Rights Services Review which is due to be finalised in November 2020," the directorate said.
"That review is likely to inform thinking as to whether the new commissioner role should be located in the ACT Human Rights Commission."