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June 26, 2017

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Australia better at keeping Aborigines in jail than school: report

SYDNEY -- Australia is better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison than in school, the country's indigenous rights commissioner said Friday, describing the phenomenon as an "urgent issue."

Australia's human rights commission said in a report the Aboriginal re-imprisonment rate was 58 percent within 10 years, higher than the Aboriginal high school retention rate from the first to the last years of 46.5 percent.

"I find it shocking," wrote Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander social justice commissioner, in his annual Social Justice and Native Title Report.

"It's shameful that we do better at keeping Aboriginal people in prison than we do in schools and universities," he said in launching the report.

The high rate of imprisonment of Aborigines, about 15 times that of non-indigenous people, is one of Australia's most urgent human rights issues, the report said.

The commission's report found indigenous people were markedly over-represented as both victims and offenders in the justice system.

"Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults are 15 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous Australians, while around half of the young people in juvenile detention facilities are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander," Gooda wrote in the report.

"It is also simply unacceptable that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are hospitalized for family-violence related assault, at 31 times the rate of non-indigenous women."

The report comes after the government's Productivity Commission last month found the adult imprisonment rate for indigenous people increased 57 percent between 2000 and 2013.

"I think that's a sad indictment when you think of kids getting their education in prison instead of at a high school," Gooda said.

The commission said the high rate of incarceration was having a knock-on effect on younger generations.

"We know people in houses, or families, where people have been put in jail are more likely to go to jail themselves," Gooda said.

Aborigines, who number about 500,000 of a total population of 23 million, are the most disadvantaged Australians, suffering disproportionate levels of disease and social problems as well as lower educational attainment, employment and life expectancy.

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