Indigenous offenders are receiving the same sentences as non-indigenous Australians, bucking an
international trend, new research shows.
Dr Samantha Jeffries and Dr Christine Bond, from Queensland University of Technology, studied more than 4000 cases in the High Court in South Australia, NSW and Western Australia.
They compared the sentences handed to offenders who’d committed similar crimes and had similar criminal histories, history of abuse, employment backgrounds and child care responsibilities.
They found indigenous Australians received the same as non-indigenous people in NSW and Western Australia, but sentences were more lenient in South Australia.
Dr Bond said they were surprised to find most states treated offenders with equality.
Data from the United States showed indigenous, Latinos and African Americans were more likely to be treated harshly in the courts.
“There is a great fear in US society of native Americans and ethnic groups and you see that in sentencing,” Dr Bond told AAP.
“I don’t think Australia has the same sense of fear towards indigenous Australians.
“Judges are very aware of their disadvantage position.”
Meanwhile, Dr Jeffries said sentencing and sentencing remarks from judges in South Australia were more lenient and sensitive compared to the other two states and that should be applied across the board.
“It is well documented that indigenous people are more likely to have life stories which involve extreme trauma and dysfunction,” she said.
“The motivation for the crime really does need to be looked at … while one person may have been motivated by greed, another may have been motivated by survival.”
However, both of the researchers said that overall, Australian judges were highly aware of the unique issues facing indigenous offenders and treated them with sensitivity.
Similar research for Queensland and the Northern Territory is expected to be released soon.