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Issue #1705      October 7, 2015

Bill prompts dismay

Mandatory sentencing changes under fire

Aboriginal, human rights and legal organisations are dismayed that the West Australian Lower House has passed a Bill that will see more Aboriginal people in prison and teenagers tried as adults.

The Criminal Law Amendment (Home Burglary and Other Offences) Bill will extend WA’s mandatory sentencing regime, which is already the toughest in the nation.

The new amendments tighten existing mandatory sentencing arrangements for non-violent home burglaries and introduce additional mandatory sentences for aggravated home burglaries, which will apply to 16- and 17-year-olds as well as adults.

Amnesty International Indigenous rights manager Tammy Solonec, a Nyikina woman, said Aboriginal people who are already massively overrepresented in WA’s prisons, would be further disadvantaged by these laws.

“Mandatory sentencing is not the answer to keeping communities safe because it does not address the underlying causes that lead to criminal behaviour,” she said.

“These laws also fly in the face of international law, breaching the Convention on the Rights of the Child that provides that detention for young people should only be a last resort and for the shortest possible time. Rather than working to find a solution, the WA government has taken the backward step of entrenching a harsh and punitive approach.

Unintended consequences

“We are concerned that these laws will have unintended consequences, particularly for young people and that, ironically, it will lead to increased offending behaviour because we know the more young people that end up incarcerated the more likely they are to re-offend.”

Despite only making up around 6% of the youth population, Aboriginal people made up 78% of young people in detention in WA in 2013-14. Ms Solonec said WA Labor, despite being “unequivocally” opposed to mandatory sentencing in their own policy platform, did not oppose the Bill.

“WA already has the appalling distinction of having the highest rate of Indigenous youth in detention in Australia,” she said. These laws will only add to that terrible distinction.

“Tragically, young people’s lives will be irrevocably changed for the worse with the passing of these mandatory sentencing laws.

“Rather than spending an additional $93 million to keep youth in detention and jails, the WA government could have shown some vision by putting this money into diversionary and preventative programs that address the underlying causes of crimes, including poverty, trauma and substance abuse.”

National Congress of Australia’s First People’s co-chair Kirstie Parker, who is also co-chair of the #ChangeTheRecord campaign that aims to reduce the overrepresentation of Indigenous people in prison, said Australia had been a signatory to the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child for 25 years.

“And yet wave after wave of horrendous and frankly stupid and opportunistic lawmaking make a mockery of that commitment,” she said.

“This furious raft of measures will propel people into prisons rather than keeping them out. Mandatory sentencing is a big log for the fire, but so many decisions are heading in the wrong direction.

“It’s really hard to image how much more evidence and expert advice is needed to convince the WA government they need to be smarter about this.

“I saw a report where former Prime Minister Abbott described these new laws as a ‘political triumph’. How sad that governments are concerned with being politically opportunistic rather than smart on crime and the things that will make our society safer for all.”

Koori Mail

Next article – Blaming the victim

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