New research has revealed that Aboriginal women in NSW are 8.3 per cent less likely to be granted bail by police than non-Aboriginal women.
Meanwhile, courts in NSW are 11 per cent more likely to grant bail in domestic violence matters.
These statistics come from the latest NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research report, that looked at more than 500,000 bail decisions made by police and courts in NSW between 2015 and 2019. The findings have concerned domestic violence and women’s justice advocacy groups, who say we need a significant culture shift in the justice system.
Hayley Foster, CEO of Women’s Safety NSW, said the statistics relating to bail and domestic violence matters are consistent with her experience, in that too many offenders are making bail. Foster said too often perpetrators of domestic violence are not seen as a threat to the community.
“The problem with this is that we know domestic violence offenders are highly likely to reoffend, often with destructive consequences for their current and future victims,” Foster said.
“We need to move away from the erroneous assumption that domestic violence perpetrators are just good guys that snapped in the moment. That’s just not the reality for victim-survivors.”
Meanwhile Gloria Larman, CEO of the Women’s Justice Network, said the findings from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research relating to Aboriginal women being less likely to be granted bail, were not surprising.
“The reality is that we have a criminal justice system that either consciously or unconsciously discriminates against Aboriginal people and Aboriginal women in particular,” Larman said.
“We work with so many Aboriginal women who have been put on remand for minor offences such as unpaid fines or driving without a license.
“These women do not pose a threat to the community and yet they’re locked up with devastating consequences for their wellbeing and the wellbeing of their families.
“In fact, the overwhelming majority of Aboriginal women on remand are themselves victim-survivors of long-term domestic, family and sexual violence.”
According to the Women’s Justice Network, Aboriginal women have been the fastest growing group in the prison population.
“We can’t keep locking Aboriginal women up at endemic rates,” Larman said. “This is happening on our watch and the devastating consequences are being felt now and intergenerationally.”
The report highlights that 25 per cent of adults and 45 per cent of young people on remand in NSW identified as Aboriginal, a significant number given Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for just 3.4 per cent of the state’s population.
“This study confirms that bail decisions are overwhelmingly based on legal factors related to offending. However, it remains possible that Aboriginal people are disadvantaged in police bail decisions and that this is contributing to their over-representation in custody,” Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, said.
The Aboriginal Legal Service said it should be an urgent priority to reduce the number of Aboriginal people in NSW prisons.
“Yet the facts show that Aboriginal people are being disproportionately locked up without being sentenced of a crime,” Sarah Crellin, Principal Solicitor (Crime Practice) at the ALS, said.
Women’s Safety NSW and the Women’s Justice Network are calling for a qualitative review of how bail decisions are made by police and the courts in NSW. They also say training for police, prosecutors and judicial officers around the gender-based violence and cultural competency is needed.
“We need a significant cultural shift in our criminal justice system when it comes to domestic, family and sexual violence and the way in which we treat Aboriginal people and women in particular. We must have a focus on safety,” Foster said.