Indigenous people overrepresented in prisons

Today’s Sydney Morning Herald is running a story on how Indigenous people are ‘grossly over represented in prisons’.
Apparently indigenous people consistently made up about 80 per cent of the territory’s prison population, where as Indigenous people make up just 28 per cent of the population.
ATSIC North Zone Commissioner Kim Hill suggests the establishment of a diversionary system for adults, alternative sentencing options, and for custodial sentences to be used as a last resort as a way to resolve the issue.
I put some thought into it myself and came up with a much simpler idea. Don’t commit crimes and you won’t go to jail.



  1. Al Maviva

    Herein, a lesson on the proper use of statistics, and why we shouldn’t chuck out the otherwise neutral term “overrepresentation” with the bathwater.
    “Overrepresentation” is a term taken from disparate impact theory civil rights litigation. Disparate impact theory posits that any subset of society that is not “representative” – i.e. comprised of a cross section of society that proportionally mirrors the race, sex, sexual preference, religion, web-toed, tongue-rolling, etc. makeup of the population, must therefore be biased against (or for) the under or overrepresented chunk of population. Yep, an overage of Blacks in prison must prove that the justice system is racist; and an under-age of the same group in my neighborhood must prove that everybody who lives on my street is a Klanner. [Aside: There is a parachute clause – if one happened upon a brokerage, for instance, that was all Black, a disparate impact theorist (being trendy and all) would argue that Blacks can’t discriminate, since they aren’t in the majority. Sure, sure, they may outnumber us pale items 3:1 thanks to the procreative power of Africans, but hard numbers don’t really matter to critical race theorists, unless the numbers support the theory… but I digress.]
    The problem with the use of “overrepresentation” that you report is twofold. It assumes bias in the absence of invidious racist motive. Few Blacks live in Nome, Alaska, and many indigenous personnel do. This doesn’t mean that that City of Nome has formed a chapter of the Klan, nor does it imply that the City somehow favored Aleuts with special inducements to get them to move there. It’s an accident of geography that lotsa Eskimos live there, and few Africans and African-Americans. Yet much of the legal academy, and most of the media, apparently take over and underrepresentation as proof of discrimination. Wonder how they feel ’bout that in Nome.
    Secondarily, over and underrepresentation can be a useful tool for diagnosing real problems, including, sometimes, racism. The fact that no Blacks live in LillyWhite Township, Mississippi, may indicate a problem. Likewise, the overrepresentation of Indigenous Personnel in prison isn’t per se evidence of racism – it’s evidence that there is some problem in the IP community that has led them into those straits. True, it could be racism… but maybe it’s something else.
    But then, when you’re a racialist crusader, correct application of statistical methods, facts and the law never really enter into it. So let’s parole enough aboriginal muggers, rapists and thieves to salve our White guilt, and then go back to our pints, smugly satisfied we’ve solved another one of society’s great problems, by achieving a “representative” jail population. Hey, if affirmative action is good enough for colleges, med school, government contracts and Wall Street, it’s good enough for the Justice System. And tomorrow, we can work on the cops, making sure they only arrest a representative sampling of rapists, murderers, and so forth. Can’t stop progress, you know.