The child prison population which is generally tagged as the youth or juvenile detention population will double by 2025. Nearly 1,000 children are incarcerated every night in Australia but by 2025 it will be 2,000 and the trajectory will increasingly steepen thereafter.
Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory will continue to incarcerate children at the nation’s highest rates.
Despite all the chatter at the moment about not incarcerating ten year old children, unless there is an investment in supporting young children to turn their lives around then they will be locked up even though the mode of incarceration will be masked by various labels.
More than half of Australia’s incarcerated children are Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders, but by 2025 three in four of the youth detention population will be comprised by Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children.
The chattering classes are at full steam but they are leveraging little on the political spectrum. The major culprits of this failure are the academics who offer little in ways forward, who are bent on scoring funding for so-called research after research but do not drive campaigns on the ways forward. The other culprits are the so-called peak body advocacy organisations that describe the abomination of high and disparate rates but also fail on articulating and achieving the ways forward.
Few are focusing on the improving of life circumstance and on what it takes to achieve this for those downtrodden, marginalised, who live trainwreck lives. Few are focusing on the relentless psychosocial support, on the need to provide a suite of quality opportunities to the affected. Few are focusing on the truth.
In the meantime, carpetbaggers and snake oil merchants, are siphoning what little funds are available on the presumption that they have programs that are ‘diverting’, ‘building resilience’, or doing ‘vital research’.
Many describe the incarceration crisis. The crisis disproportionately affects the descendants of the First Peoples but by 2025 more than one in two of the national prison population will be comprised of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. There is nothing on the horizon that indicates it will not continue to get worse. There is nothing that any government in Australia is doing that will reduce incarceration and the disparities.
Western Australia jails Aboriginal peoples at not only the nation’s highest rate but at the world’s highest rate. Higher than the Black American jail rate. One in 13 of Western Australia’s Black adult males are in prison today – world’s highest racialised jail rate.
One in six of Western Australia’s Aboriginal peoples have been to prison. One in six of the Northern Territory’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been to prison. Moral and political abomination – condemnation and indictment of not only Australia during the last half century but of everyone today who has agency to make a difference but instead who leave their brothers and sisters behind to rot.
The Northern Territory has the highest rate of children jailed (detained).
We do not need royal commissions and reports to tell us that in general detention centres wreck lives, that in general children come out worse than when they went in. It is no longer just a disgrace to produce report after report, it is criminal.
We can do the statistics to the end of days. Or we can make the difference that is long overdue. The focus has to be on improving lives.
Only governments can underwrite the collective and cumulative improvement of living conditions in the hundreds of regional and remote communities, but all of us – organisations, academics, educators, social change professionals – can work that little bit harder to improve the lot of those who reach out to us or we come across.
Recently I wrote, “People are more likely to be good if they didn’t have to go to prison, but supported instead. For those who are sentenced to prison, these must be places where people come first, not last. In working with our most vulnerable sisters and brothers, in changing lives, we must invest in supporting each other, so that trauma can be overcome and packed away.”
“Recently, a 21 year old man who had been homeless since he was 14 years old completed a training to employment with an organisation I help support. He had little formal secondary school education. He lived homeless throughout the training stretch. We picked him up each day and took him to the training. He graduated. He is now employed. Because we believed in him, he began to believe in himself. He is now saving for a private rental home. He will bring his mother out of years of homelessness and with her, his two youngest siblings, a three year old and 15 month old.”
That’s how it is done.