Investigating the concept of wickedness in contemporary society in relation to homicide, and the effects of sentencing on the identity of Indigenous Australians, are the focus of two new books by senior law researchers from the University of Technology, Sydney. With identity, dominant, hybrid and multiple, at the forefront of recent rulings before courts, such as that of western NSW Wilcannia’s William Bugmy, the books have a timeliness about them.
Former NSW director of public prosecutions, Adjunct Professor Nicholas Cowdery QC today launched ‘Wickedness and Crime Laws of Homicide and Malice’ by Dr Penny Crofts, and ‘Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment’ by Dr Thalia Anthony.
In her book, Dr Crofts, a senior lecturer in the faculty of law, seeks to expose the ways in which criminal law communicates and sanctions different types of ‘wickedness’ in contemporary society. While the words ‘wickedness’ and ‘evil’ have gained popular momentum since September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks and most recently in the Thomas Kelly manslaughter case, their meaning is still not clear, explained Dr Crofts.
“Despite the importance of wickedness in criminal law, the question of what it means to be wicked is either avoided or ignored,” said Dr Crofts.
“The media, community and political response to the very sad death of Thomas Kelly can be regarded as a social debate about what it means to be wicked, and the role of the criminal law in constructing notions of right and wrong.”
“Criminal law organises wickedness whether it wants to or not and we should critically evaluate the models of wickedness that are expressed in the law,” said Dr Crofts.
Dr Thalia Anthony is also a senior law lecturer at UTS. She investigated how criminal sentencing courts are changing the characterisations of Indigenous peoples’ identity, culture and postcolonial status in her book, ‘Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment.’
Through comparative and historical analysis of the sentencing of Indigenous offenders across Australia, the book demonstrates how judicial discretion is moulded to be dominant white assumptions about Indigeneity.
“Indigenous offenders are receiving harsher sentences due to the courts taking a more critical approach to Indigenous offenders and their communities,” said Dr Anthony.
Dr Anthony believes that closer attention needs to be placed on alternative Indigenous sentencing courts and the role of Indigenous community justice mechanisms.
“My book argues that the mainstream sentencing courts are inadequate channels for improving community protection, safety and reducing recividism.”
The Australian Bureau of Statistic’s most recent Australian Corrective Services report showed a rise in the number of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples in prison – more than 8,500, with a rise of more than 12 per cent for ATSI female prisoners, and 8 per cent for ATSI male prisoners. Where last year one in every four Australian prisoners were Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders, today this stands at nearly one in three of all prisoners, with ATSI people having gone up from making up 26 per cent of the Australian prison population last year to this making up 30 per cent of the total prison population.
According to comparative data research by Gerry Georgatos, from a racial research perspective, Australia incarcerates its ATSI peoples at the world’s highest rate.