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Legal Body Warns Of Indigenous Prison Crisis Without More Funding

"It's an emergency".

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The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Service (NATSILS), the peak body that represents Aboriginal legal services around the country, has said its services will collapse and put more Indigenous people behind bars if they don’t receive an increase in funding in today’s Budget.

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Karly Warner, acting executive officer for NATSILS, told BuzzFeed News the situation is critical.

"We are seriously concerned about the impacts of the scheduled $4.5 million cuts which are due to hit the ATSILS (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services)”.

"One of our legal services does not have guaranteed funding services behind the end of the year. These are emergency measures, we need immediate injections to survive".

Warner warns that the courts will be full of Indigenous people representing themselves if the legal service fails to secure increased long-term funding.

"It will result in an unavoidable withdrawal of frontline services resulting in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people being unrepresented in courts and unable to access culturally competent legal services".

"The biggest concern is it is going to deny many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people access to justice and procedural fairness, which every Australian deserves," Warner says.

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Indigenous people are over-represented in prison and juvenile detention centres around the country.

Indigenous make up around 3% of the population, yet account for over 30% of the prison population. In Western Australia and the Northern Territory, they make up more than 80% of the prison population.

"In 1991, at the time of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were seven times more likely to be in prison, and that figure in 2016 is they are now 13 times more likely," Warner says.

"It’s horrific that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people are twice as likely to be in custody than in higher education".

Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at allan.clarke@buzzfeed.com.

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