I rise to support this motion. I would also like to acknowledge the member for Fenner for his extensive work in this area. His words today and over past years have reflected his commitment to accurate research, policy development and social justice for all Australians—in particular, our First Australians. As has been pointed out, incarceration in Australia is one of our biggest social challenges. It has become such an issue. It is a costly exercise for governments, both in the direct cost of incarcerating Australians and the indirect and associated social issues that arise. We often look at the United States and recognise it as the home of incarceration. For too long, African Americans have made up a disproportionate number of inmates across the United States, and they still do today. Here in our own country, the proportion of incarcerated First Australians outweighs that. There is a higher rate of First Australians in our corrective systems than there is of African Americans in the United States corrections system. We must now look to those states of the United States that have led reform in this area and use their examples to reduce the financial and social toll that this incarceration takes.
These reforms are not partisan policies. In fact, it was only last year that we saw the First Step Act, which allowed the compassionate release of imprisoned Americans and credits given towards their total time of incarceration for good behaviour. The act also allows for judges to ease mandatory minimum sentences and restricts practices that oversentence offenders, like stacking multiple weapons offences. These are not groundbreaking reforms, but the United States has had an issue with overincarceration and prison crowding for decades. Australia must now have a national conversation about both of these things. It must look inward and outward. We must look inward to our key issue: that our First Australians are more likely than nearly any other demographic in the world to be incarcerated. We must look outward to programs that have been embraced, most notably the First Step Act in the United States.
The rate of incarceration of First Australians is deplorable and unacceptable. Since 1990, the rate of incarceration of First Australians has more than doubled. One in four incarcerated adults in Australia is a First Australian. This means that First Australians are more likely to be incarcerated than African Americans. The research has found that, since 1985, the share of women prisoners has nearly doubled, the share of Indigenous prisoners has nearly tripled and the average age of prisoners has increased by seven years. What this research has done is provide us with a chance to analyse data and identify solutions. What must be done now is to appreciate the extensive work that the member for Fenner has done in this area and develop appropriate policies across all levels of government to stem the issues. Significant change in our prisoner population is at the extreme end of the scale. It's no accident that punitive policies and laws are sending more of our most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians to jail and for longer. While white settlement of our nation was against somewhat of a convict background, I doubt that, a little over 200 years on, Australians want us heading towards another spate of incarcerations.
This issue does not call for softer sentencing. It does not mean we should release prisoners earlier. It does not call for alleviated sentences based on gender or on the racial or cultural background of a person. As the member for Fenner has said, it calls for a national approach to a criminal justice system. We need to face these issues head on. We need to work with our states and territories for logical and rational criminal justice policies that do not revert to the modus operandi of incarceration. We need to look at underlying social issues that cause our most vulnerable and disadvantaged Australians to be so unacceptably overrepresented in our jails. At the top level, we're talking about education, wider and easier access to mental health support, and alternatives to incarceration that do not involve the full-time jailing of offenders—alternatives like justice reinvestment in New South Wales, which was discussed earlier by the honourable member, which localises early intervention, prevention and diversionary solutions that can help reduce crime, build local capacity and strengthen local communities.
I congratulate the member for Fenner again for his extensive work on this issue and for bringing this motion to the attention of the House. It has highlighted a problem in our society and in our policies that shows that we do need, as proposed, a combined and national approach to policy reform in this area.