Our First Nations people in custody

17 December 2018
The Sydney Institute of Criminology’s annual memorial lecture
Leading senior criminal barrister Phillip Boulten SC addresses the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australian prisons.
Senior criminal barrister Phillip Boulten SC

Senior criminal barrister Phillip Boulten SC 


The Sydney Institute of Criminology’s 2018 Paul Byrne SC Memorial Lecture attracted over 150 law practitioners, academics and members of the public, who turned out on the night to hear senior criminal barrister Phillip Boulten SC discuss the disproportionate incarceration of Indigenous Australians.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, nearly a quarter of all Australian prisoners are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander people and are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-indigenous Australians. The figures are worse for Indigenous youth, who are 24 times more likely to be detained in juvenile detention centres than their non-Indigenous counterparts.

Mr Boulten’s lecture analysed the reasons for this continued disparity and what can be done to reduce it, highlighting justice reinvestment and place-based sentencing as two of the many ways to reduce the overincarceration of Indigenous Australians. He applauded the work of Just Reinvest NSW for their strategic community-driven investment in localised early intervention and prevention, as well as the community building and support programs provided by Weave, among others.

The lecture made it clear that practices which ‘scoop up’ Indigenous Australians are not limited to the Northern Territory, and that with so many ongoing reports on the overincarceration of Indigenous Australians there is plenty of evidence to support the need for reforms that address this national problem.  

Phillip Boulten SC is a senior criminal barrister practising at the Sydney Bar from Forbes Chambers. He appeared in the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory as senior counsel for the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency. He is the Chair of the Indigenous Issues Committee of the Australian Bar Association, Co-Chair of the NSW Bar Association’s Working Group on the Over-representation of Indigenous People in Custody and a member of the Law Council’s Criminal Law Committee. He is a past President of the NSW Bar Association and a former member of the executive of the Australian Bar Association.

The Paul Byrne SC Memorial Lecture is an annual event hosted by the Sydney Institute of Criminology at the Sydney Law School to honour Paul Byrne SC, who had a lifelong interest in criminal law and the criminal justice system and was an active participant and generous supporter of the Sydney Institute of Criminology.

Mr Boulten’s Paul Byrne Memorial Lecture will be published in the February 2019 edition of the Sydney Institute of Criminology’s journal, Current Issues in Criminal Justice.

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