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Issue #1636      April 30, 2014

Western Australia, mother of all jailers

Western Australia’s prison population is a stark contrast to the rest of the nation, jailing First Peoples at the nation’s highest rate. Eighty two percent of the juvenile detention population are comprised of the youth of First Peoples, while 40 percent of the state’s adult prison population is comprised of First Peoples despite the fact they only comprise less than 3 percent of the total population of the state.

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, in 2013, the overall prison population decreased by one percent from 2012. The imprisonment rate decreased from 267 per 100,000 to 256 per 100,000. In 2013, the imprisonment rate for non-Aboriginal adults was 159 per 100,000 of the Western Australian population while for First Peoples it was 21 times the non-Aboriginal rate, at 3,315 per 100,000.

Western Australian Aboriginal adult males are imprisoned at the world’s highest rate.

Restorative justice academic and criminologist, Dr Brian Steels, said that the “penal estate” would continue to fail all prisoners but that governments were ultimately responsible for addressing the extensive disparity that First Peoples endure in reference to incarceration.

Dr Steels said it is disingenuous for anyone to suggest that racism does not underwrite the disproportionate rates.

“Government keeps on telling us that these rates have nothing to do with race. How is that possible? The police are mostly non-Indigenous and they have little idea of what it is to live under colonial rulers,” said Dr Steels.

“The majority of police do not know what it is like to be treated as a second-class people on their own land and which was stolen from them.

“Governments only need to work with us, restoratively and therapeutically instead of retributively and punitively. Our way works, their way does not.” Indeed, evidence from around the world suggests restorative justice does succeed to reduce re-offending and to help people to alternate pathways other than a life immersed in criminality. Scandinavian countries such as Norway, where restorative justice practices are in place, have the lowest re-offending rates in Europe. Europe’s overall re-offending rate is 60 percent, while Norway has a re-offending rate of 16 percent.

Noongar rights advocate, Marianne Mackay said that nothing will change unless governments listen to restorative justice experts and criminologists such as Dr Steels, and also heed the recommendations of one report after another.

“I think the latest statistics show the failure of governments to heed recommendations from reports such as the “Doing Time, Time for Doing” report. Until they start implementing these recommendations our people will continue to be locked up,” said Ms Mackay.

“It does not also help anyone to have draconian mandatory sentencing regimes in place that not only erode but do away with people’s rights.

“People need to start looking at these statistics, think about how is it possible to have this disparity of 21 times the rate, and then begin to pin on it racism.

“Our people only need to bump into someone and they’re arrested. Our people only have to speak up in trying to defend themselves and they’re arrested.”

The Stringer

Next article – How Media Watch lost its teeth backing the war on Syria

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