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NSW crime figures show Indigenous young offenders more likely to be prosecuted for same crimes

Rodney Dillon was an Aboriginal advisor to Amnesty International. He is also a Palawa man.

“Aboriginal people have always said that our people get locked up a lot, lot easier than anyone else,” Dillon said.

“Everyone needs to be treated fairly and it’s time for police to stop playing these racist games … and understand what they’re doing to one particular group of people.”

Weatherburn said the findings matched research from the United States showing the country’s sentencing courts treated young male African American and Hispanic offenders more harshly than white offenders, even after relevant legal and contextual factors have been accounted for.

Previously conducted studies in Australia about the probability of Indigenous and non-Indigenous adults getting sentenced did not find bias after legal factors were considered.

Weatherburn stated that there was greater opportunity for bias among juvenile offenders, as police had more discretion under the NSW Young Offenders Act for cautioning rather than prosecuting certain minor offenses.

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“When you say Aboriginal kids are less likely to be cautioned, most people will say, ‘well, that’s because they’ve got a prior criminal record or that’s because they commit more serious offences’,” Weatherburn said.

“What we found is that even if you take those legal factors into account, Aboriginal kids in every local area command are more likely to be prosecuted than non-Aboriginal kids in every local area command. There are big differences between individual police officers and also big differences between local area commands.”

Weatherburn claimed that the legislation contained a section listing the things the police could consider. Then, it had a sub-section which allows them to consider any other factor. Weatherburn suggested that this provision should be deleted.

A spokesperson for NSW Police said: “The statistics are a reflection of the ability for an individual to meet the criteria [for a caution].”

These criteria include the eligibility of the offence for a caution, whether the child admits to the offence, consents to the warning, and whether the child is entitled be issued a caution.

When told that the research already took this into account, the police spokesperson said the response “still stands”.

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