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Juveniles

Gardiner and Takagaki (2002) found that female Indigenous juveniles were over four times more likely to be processed for an offence than their non-Indigenous counterparts. In particular, the over-representation was highest for crimes against the person (by a factor of 5) and lowest for 'other' offences (factor of 2). They also found that between 1993 and 1997, the number of Indigenous girls processed by VicPol increased by 29 percent, while there was negligible (0.4%) increase for non-Indigenous girls. The authors described this situation as a matter of great concern, which raises serious questions in relation to the conduct of policing in Victoria (Gardiner & Takagaki 2002). Their data indicate that Indigenous female juveniles were more likely than non-Indigenous juveniles to commit crime against the person (16% vs 9%), less likely to commit crime against property (64% vs 76%) and slightly more likely to commit 'other' offences (20% vs 16%). As for adults, Indigenous girls were more likely than non-Indigenous girls to be processed for the offence of assault (6% vs 2% for indictable; 9% vs 5% for summary) and other summary offences (17% vs 12%).

Gardiner and Takagaki (2002: 312) also note the 'continuing role racial selectivity can play in modern policing', drawing on data (unfortunately not broken down by gender) which indicated that only five percent of Indigenous juvenile offenders processed for 'other summary offences' were cautioned, compared with 36 percent of non-Indigenous juveniles. It follows, therefore, that Indigenous offending appears to be dealt with more harshly from the moment of police intervention and that this may continue to occur, notwithstanding the RCIADIC recommendation that cautioning juveniles should take precedence over other means of processing (RCIADIC 1991: Recommendation 239). Some of the reasons for the failure to divert may include Indigenous juveniles' earlier involvement in the criminal justice system or more serious prior criminal records or differences in policing practices. As Richards (2009) noted recently, there has been little published on how police make decisions about whether a particular juvenile should be warned, cautioned or referred to a restorative justice conference.

Police data from South Australia also suggest over-representation; Indigenous girls accounted for 21 percent of police apprehensions for juveniles (OCSAR 2006b). WA data for 2006 indicate that Indigenous juveniles accounted for 66 percent of female police cautions, while Indigenous women accounted for 39 percent of female arrests (Fernandez et al. 2009). Other data indicate that the number of Indigenous female arrests almost doubled from 1,381 in 1991 to 2,744 in 2005, which was 'mostly due to large increases in justice and good order offences and driving-related offences (Loh et al. 2007: vii). More recent data indicate that the most common offences for female Indigenous juveniles were theft other than a motor vehicle (TOMV; 23%), followed by assault, breach of justice order and burglary (all 10%; Fernandez et al. 2009). Non-Indigenous female juveniles were most likely to be arrested for TOMV (23%) and assault (16%). Indigenous females also appear to come into contact with the criminal justice system at a younger age. Eleven percent of Indigenous female juveniles cautioned in 2006 were aged 10 or 11 years, compared with only one percent of non-Indigenous juveniles.

The AIC recently released the monitoring report Juveniles' Contact with the Criminal Justice System in Australia (Richards 2009). The report found that Indigenous female juveniles were disproportionately apprehended by police in comparison with Indigenous male juveniles in only some jurisdictions. In Western Australia, for example, Indigenous juveniles accounted for 45 percent of males arrested, compared with 63 percent of females. The figures for South Australia were 19 percent and 28 percent respectively. New South Wales, the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria and the Northern Territory, by contrast, showed similar levels of police contact for Indigenous male and female juveniles (Richards 2009).

The report also presents information (based on Loh et al. 2007) on children's court outcomes for juveniles in Western Australia by gender and Indigenous status. These data indicate that 79 percent of Indigenous females were found guilty, compared with 66 percent of non-Indigenous females (Richards 2009). In addition, Indigenous females were much less likely to be referred to a juvenile justice team (20% vs 32%).

Figure 8 sets out sentencing outcomes for female juveniles in Western Australia in 2005 (Richards 2009). As can be seen, Indigenous female juveniles are less likely to have their matter dismissed (19% vs 25%) or to receive a fine (18% vs 29%) and are over three times as likely to receive a custodial sentence (13% vs 4%).

Richards' (2009) report also presents detailed information on the number of juveniles subject to community supervision and detention, by age, gender and Indigenous status. Notably, Indigenous females comprised a higher proportion of female juveniles under community supervision than Indigenous males comprised in relation to all male juveniles (47% vs 38%). In addition, Indigenous female juveniles were less likely to be on remand than their non-Indigenous counterparts (50% vs 89%). As at 30 June 2007, there were 38 Indigenous females in juvenile detention (SCRCSP 2009b) and the rate of detention was 24 times higher than for non-Indigenous females. The SCRCSP report also presented data on juvenile diversions in the Northern Territory, which indicated that Indigenous females were more likely to be diverted than males, although both groups were less likely to be diverted than their non-Indigenous counterparts (SCRCSP 2009b).

Figure 8: Sentencing outcomes for juvenile females in Western Australia, 2005

  Sentencing outcomes for juvenile females in Western Australia, 2005

Source: adapted from Loh et al. 2007; Richards 2009