First Nations young people

First Nations people (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people) have a long history of over-representation in the youth and adult justice systems in Australia (House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs 2011; Johnston 1991). It is important to understand how the past shapes the lives of First Nations Australians today: they have a long history of trauma, cultural dispossession, and forced displacement and assimilation, which affects their physical, mental and social wellbeing.  

Disconnection from family and kinship systems, from Country, from spirituality and cultural practices, as well as the loss of parenting practices, are sources of trauma that can be passed from caregiver to child. First Nations people’s experience of child welfare policies has historically been traumatic, with the policy of forcible removal of children leading to what is now known as the Stolen Generations.

These removal policies have long-term consequences, including enduring social, physical and psychological impacts for those directly involved and their families and communities. The over-representation of First Nations children in juvenile justice systems reflects this history of trauma and the stressors that have affected their parents, families and communities.

Although only about 5.8% of people aged 10–17 in Australia are First Nations, more than half (52%) of the people aged 10–17 in detention on an average day in 2021–22 were First Nations (AIHW 2023).

Note: This proportion differs from the nightly average for the June quarter 2023 as it is restricted to the 10–17 age group and is from an earlier period.

Outcome 11 of the National Agreement on Closing the Gap is that First Nations young people not be over-represented in the criminal justice system. The target under the National Agreement is to reduce the rate of First Nations young people (10–17 years) in detention by 30%, from 31.9 per 10,000 young people on an average day in 2018–19 to 22.3 per 10,000 young people by 2030–31 (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2020).

First Nations over-representation in youth detention can be expressed as a rate ratio, which compares the rate of First Nations young people with that of non-Indigenous young people (for more details see Technical notes).