In the run-up to the Voice to Parliament referendum, people on both sides of the debate took the opportunity to highlight Indigenous disadvantage.
Speaking on ABC Radio earlier this weekPrime Minister Anthony Albanese argued that voting no would result in “more of the same outcomes” for Indigenous Australians.
“We know that a young Indigenous man is more likely to go to prison than to university,” he said.
This claim is one that the Prime Minister has repeated almost 40 times since May.
But is this correct?
RMIT ABC Fact Check investigates.
Mr Albanese’s claims are legitimate.
Although there is no data set that allows for a precise comparison, the available data overall suggests that young Indigenous men are more likely to go to prison than to university.
The latest census found that 4.9 percent of Indigenous men aged 18 to 34 were enrolled in university in 2021, while 6.3 percent were in prison on census night.
The census could not determine whether any Indigenous men had ever been incarcerated, but found that 4.8 percent of people aged 20 to 34 had a university degree.
Regarding lifetime incarceration rates, experts pointed to a survey last conducted in 2014-15 that showed 8.2 percent of Indigenous men aged 15 to 34 had been incarcerated.
This survey did not provide an age distribution for those who had attended or were attending college. However, the survey showed that among all Indigenous men aged 15 and over, 3.5 percent were studying at university and 3.8 percent had graduated, while 14.6 percent had been imprisoned.
As one expert told Fact Check, despite some improvements in recent years, “it’s much more likely to find a First Nations man in a prison cell than in a university lecture hall.”
Previous Fact Check findings
This is not the first time a Labor leader has compared rates of incarceration and university attendance among young Indigenous men.
In 2015, then Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said: “An 18-year-old Aboriginal boy in Australia is more likely to end up in prison than at university. »
Fact Check concluded that this statement was a fair decision.
Experts said it was difficult to confidently assess the “lifetime probability” of either outcome because it involved predicting the future based on past patterns.
However, they agreed that Mr Shorten’s claim could be assessed holistically by comparing the proportion of Aboriginal men who were or had been in prison with the proportion who were attending university or had completed a degree.
Using a number of official data sources collected by different organizations at different times, Fact Check found that a greater proportion of young Aboriginal men had been incarcerated in the five years to 2008 than of prison holders. a baccalaureate or higher diploma in 2011.
Meanwhile, data from 2014 showed a greater proportion of young Indigenous men were in prison than in university.
Experts contacted by Fact Check about Mr Albanese’s claim said updated versions of the same data sources would be appropriate to assess his recent statement.
“Young” Indigenous men
Mr Albanese spoke of the results achieved by a “young indigenous man”.
In line with previous analysis, Fact Check sought to compare data from 18-34 year olds where possible.
As Nicholas Biddle, now associate director of the Center for Social Research and Methods at the Australian National University (ANU), once told Fact Check: “I don’t think the results of a woman’s life 55 year old today would be too important. concerning the results of an 18-year-old young person.
Notably, regarding the number of people with a bachelor’s degree or higher, Fact Check limited its analysis to ages 20 to 34, on the grounds that few men, indigenous or not, obtained a degree university before the age of 20.
Additionally, data for the 18-34 age group was not available in all datasets, necessitating comparisons of other age groups in some cases.
While other datasets look at whether people are currently imprisoned or studying, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey (NATSISS), published by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), provides the most useful data for comparing the likelihood of an Indigenous man going to prison or university over his lifetime.
However, the last NATSISS was completed in 2014-15, making it “several years out of date”, as Francis Markham, a researcher at the ANU Center for Indigenous Economic Policy Research, told Fact Check .
Additionally, not all of its data is broken down into more detailed age and gender categories.
NATSISS results show that 3.5 percent of Indigenous men aged 15 and older were enrolled in college, while 3.8 percent had a bachelor’s degree or higher. At the same time, 14.6 percent of them were incarcerated.
When it comes to men ages 15 to 34, 8.2 percent have been incarcerated. (A comparable breakdown of school attendance and achievement data by age was not available).
The 2021 census
For a more recent assessment of Mr. Albanese’s claims, experts suggested analyzing 2021 census data.
Hilde Tubexdirector of criminology at the University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Law, told Fact Check that this and another ABS publication, Prisoners in Australia, provided “the most consistent and accurate point-in-time data more reliable” on the number of Aboriginal people. men in prison.
Christophe Cunneenprofessor of criminology at the University of Technology, Sydney, and Andrew Nortonprofessor of higher education policy at the ANU, also pointed to the census to make point-in-time comparisons.
According to the census, 4.8 percent of Indigenous men aged 20 to 34 had a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2021, while 4.9 percent of those aged 18 to 34 were enrolled at University.
The census does not collect data on whether people have ever been incarcerated, but it showed that 6.3 percent of 18- to 34-year-olds were in jail on census night.
For Aboriginal men of all ages, the census found that 4.9 per cent were in prison, 2.8 per cent were studying at university and 6.0 per cent (aged over 20) had obtained a bachelor’s degree or higher.
Other data sources
The ABS dataset Prisoners in Australia provides another snapshot of the number of Indigenous men incarcerated on June 30 each year.
According to the latest release, for 2022, the proportion of Indigenous men incarcerated was 4.3 percent for those aged 20 to 24, 6.5 percent for those aged 25 to 29 and 7.3 percent for those aged 30 to 34.
Among Indigenous men of all ages, the data shows, 4.3 percent were in prison.
Furthermore, the Ministry of Education provides other data on the number of Indigenous men studying at university, with the latest figures available for 2021.
According to these data, which do not specify age, about 3 percent of all Indigenous men were enrolled in university.
What do the experts say?
Referring to an analysis provided to Fact Check, Professor Cunneen said the latest data showed that the proportion of Indigenous men who were or had been in prison, compared to those who had been or were at university, n was “not as bad as 15 years”. There is”.
“But the basic fact remains: it is far more likely to find a First Nations man in a prison cell than in a university lecture hall.”
Professor Tubex said the census data supported Mr Albanese’s claim that a young Aboriginal man was more likely to go to prison than to university.
She added, however, that measuring whether a person has a college degree is not necessarily meaningful.
“It doesn’t refer to other knowledge systems that might be more valuable, particularly to indigenous people,” she said.
According to Professor Tubex, “this may be an expression of the structural conditions, prejudices, barriers and racism that led to these statistics being obtained, as well as (also) the need for universities to invest in different entry processes that are more suitable for indigenous students. » “.
Principal Investigator: Ellen McCutchan
- Anthony Albanese, radio interview, ABC Radio, October 3, 2023
- ABC Fact Check, Fact check: Are young Indigenous men more likely to end up in prison than in college?, ABC News, December 3, 2015
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Survey 2014-15, 28 April 2016
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, Prisoners in Australia 2022, 24 February 2023
- Australian Bureau of Statistics, census, 2021
- Ministry of Education, Selected Higher Education Statistics 2021, October 30, 2022
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