Pat Dodson has delivered a troubling reading of efforts to improve the legal treatment of Indigenous Australians.

Speaking 25 years after the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody, one of figures on the commission, Yaruwu man Pat Dodson, says that things are getting worse by almost all measurements.

Professor Dodson used the National Press Club address to highlight the staggering increase in Indigenous imprisonment.

“The problems the royal commission was set up to examine and advise governments on, have become worse... the vicious cycle remains the same,” he said.

“Accepting the status quo permits the criminal justice system to continue to suck us up like a vacuum cleaner and deposit us like waste in custodial institutions.”

The royal commission 25 years ago urged that imprisonment should be seen as a last resort, but it now appears to be used as a quick and easy ‘solution’.

“In this regard, the role of criminal justice policies in driving the current upward trend in Indigenous custody rates cannot be overlooked,” Prof Dodson said.

He identified “paperless arrest” laws in the Northern Territory and the Western Australian laws as highly unjust.

The laws allow people to be taken into custody for issues as small as a default on a fine.

The stats presented below show the weight of a system geared to blindly imprison people with no real concern for necessity, harm, context, culture, language or rehabilitation.

Aboriginal people make up just 3 per cent of Australia's population, but still:

  • 28 per cent of prisoners in Australia are Aboriginal
  • 30 per cent all incarcerated women in Australia are Aboriginal, and 24 per cent of incarcerated men
  • 48 per cent of juveniles in custody are Aboriginal
  • Imprisonment rates have increased for Aboriginal women by 58.6 per cent between 2000 and 2010; for Aboriginal men - 35.2 per cent; non-Aboriginal women - 22.4 per cent; non-Aboriginal men - 3.6 per cent
  • More than 30 per cent of all Australian Aboriginal males come before Corrective Services
  • Aboriginal people across Australia are 14.8 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal people, and in WA the rate is 20 times higher

Professor Dodson said Aboriginal people are often seen by legislators as mere targets for 'tough-on-crime' type policies. This has created a legal response to Aboriginal disadvantage that is harsh, unthinking, disrespectful and ultimately, utterly counter-productive. 

He said any real response or effort at improvement had to come through two-way interactions with Indigenous people and communities, rather than through ham-fisted intervention and knee-jerk policies. 

His full address has been posted online by the ABC.