Central Desert Arrernte man Warren H. Williams has come out hitting hard on the “lock’em up culture” that sees one in seventy of all Aboriginal peoples in prison. The Hermansburg born singer, songwriter is standing for the Australian Greens for a Senate spot from the Northern Territory in the federal election.
Mr Williams is exasperated by the NT’s horrific incarceration rates of Aboriginal peoples – 83 per cent of the Territory population is comprised of Aboriginal peoples.
Last week, alongside fellow Green, SA’s Senator Penny Wright, he launched the call for crime reduction programs to be targeted at Australia’s most disadvantaged communities. He has the backing of the Greens for a $60 million criminal justice platform. Mr Williams wants no time wasted in implementing the much touted Justice Reinvestment policy that is argued works with offenders, diverting them from a life in jail. He has seen enough of the “lock’em up and out of sight out of mind” debacle.
Mr Williams said the community-based approach of Justice Reinvestment would do much more to combat the shameful rates of Aboriginal incarceration “than current top-down government policies”.
“For a black person, getting caught for whatever reason most often means going to jail,” Mr Williams said. “Our people are shamefully over-represented in jails – more than a quarter of inmates in Australia are blackfellas.”
“Once they are in the system, their chances of going back to jail are really high and there’s a wasted life.”
“I don’t think it should be normal for Aboriginal kids to know someone in their family who is in jail or has been in jail.”
“Simple things like helping a kid in a remote area to get a driver’s licence can keep that kid out of prison down the track.”
“Jail is just a temporary solution to long-term problems. I want to do something about this. I want to stop these statistics and turn them around by addressing the causes.”
Spokesperson on legal affairs for the Greens, Senator Penny Wright, chaired a parliamentary inquiry into Justice Reinvestment which finished up recommending it. More than one hundred submissions were received by the inquiry from around the nation.
Senator Wright said that Justice Reinvestment was a smarter approach to crime and would address escalating rates of imprisonment – particularly among Aboriginal peoples.
“The tired mantra of ‘tough on crime’ is short-sighted and has put huge pressure on budgets. It’s time to get smart on crime instead.”
“Pouring billions of dollars into dealing with the consequences of crime once the damage has been done has been a failure. It has not made our communities safer,” said Senator Wright.
“Justice Reinvestment recognises we can save vast amounts of money by targeting disadvantaged communities and strengthening them, so crime doesn’t happen in the first place.”
At the launch Senator Wright said, “So today we’re promising $60 million to fund pilot programs and an independent advisory centre to get smart on crime and assist State and Territory governments to start building safer and stronger Australian communities.”
Justice Reinvestment is described as a community-focused, evidence-based approach that provides savings, diverts offenders, addresses the causes of crime, and strengthens communities. It originated in the United States where it has significant success and bipartisan support because of the significant economic savings that come from a ‘front end’ approach.
More than one in four of all Australian prisoners are Aboriginal, twenty years ago it was one in seven, it is expected by 2020 it shall be one in three unless something is done now to prevent this. One in 120 Northern Territorians are in jail, one of the world’s highest rates. Australia-wide one in seventy Aboriginal people are in jail, the world’s highest known rate of a particular peoples. Australia incarcerates its Aboriginal peoples at higher rates than what did apartheid South Africa of its Black peoples.