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NT prisoner population hits 15-year high

AAP logoAAP 31/10/2016 Lucy Hughes Jones

The Northern Territory adult prison population has soared to a 15-year high, with indigenous people 14 times more likely to be locked up, a report shows.

More than 958 out of every 100,000 adult Territorians are behind bars - nearly five times the national rate, according to the NT Corrections Department 2015-16 annual report.

Aboriginal people make up less than 30 per cent of the NT's adult population, but more than 80 per cent of the prison population.

It comes after federal Attorney-General George Brandis last week announced a national inquiry to examine high indigenous incarceration rates.

NT Corrections Commissioner Mark Payne says the figures highlight the importance of corrections in reducing recidivism rates, which stand at about 59 per cent.

"Certainly there are things that we need to address," he told ABC radio.

"It's about not seeing people come back through the doors."

The annual report said the Sentenced to a Job scheme, which allows inmates to work outside of jail in businesses, was a success.

The report said 36 per cent of participants in the program reoffended, but only eight per cent had a paid job when they were released.

"If the measure is someone came out with a job, if that measure is applied then (the program is going) not so well," Mr Payne said.

"But ... it's about how you skill people up to change their lives."

On Friday, a scathing report into the NT's correctional system called for a complete overhaul to correct the "gross over-representation" of Aboriginal people in prison, which was described as a "crisis of devastating proportions".

Mr Payne, who has been in the job one year, says he has a strategic plan to act on the Hamburger report's 172 recommendations, which include more culturally appropriate services.

"I've spoken to elders this past week ... particularly about community engagement ... and getting on-the-ground activities in remote communities that will see alternatives to the more traditional forms of custody," he said.

It also recommended for the adult and youth justice commission to be headed by a prominent local indigenous person, but Mr Payne said he didn't have the power to implement this.

The Hamburger report called for the closure of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre where boys were tear gassed, and where it stated guards were poorly paid and trained.

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