There has been much chatter in recent times of racial bias in the criminal justice system. It’s the latest bit the chattering classes want to talk about while not doing anything about it; more claptrap. Racial bias is not exclusive to any particular bastion, it is in every institution, workplace, in the form and content of the majority of Australians. But for those who in the twilight of careers or life, particularly parliamentarians and former magistrates and judges, they are notorious for re-badging themselves as social justice warriors. In the ‘theatre of nothing’ they highlight wrongs but which once they kowtowed to as part of a party line or as legislation they voted in or did nothing about. They have little chance of exacting a significant dividend of change agency after missing the opportunity while in high office, in the halls of power.
They remain culprits.
There is racial bias in legislation and in the criminal justice and only those who scribble and peddle it can change it. I will not hold my breath waiting for some judge to conscientiously object to an unjust law.
Those who were once legislators and judges, they have no rightful business in condemning draconian laws, high incarceration rates, racialised inequalities. All they should do is own up to their past cowardice and wrong doing and publicly lament the many lives lost by their own hand.
This is a problem the world over.
In the United Kingdom, more than 40 per cent of under 18s in custody are from minority backgrounds. In the United States it’s more than 50 per cent. In Australia it’s nearly 60 per cent. Australia has the highest rate of incarceration of juveniles. The United Kingdom incarcerates its Black youth at nine times the rate of its White youth. Australia incarcerates its Black youth at nearly 30 times its White youth.
It is not cultural deficits that are seeing Australia’s Black youth incarcerated – it is horrific levels of poverty that are the cesspools of aberrant behaviour and displaced anger that lead to juvenile detention, jail, suicide.
Poverty preys on the vulnerable. Poverty reduces parents to the powerless. Nearly 40 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders live below the poverty line. Just about one hundred per cent of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders who are incarcerated and of those who have suicided lived below the poverty line. Nearly 100 per cent of Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prison population has not completed secondary school, with half not having completed primary school. In general they come out of juvenile detention and adult prisons worse than they went in. They are ten times more likely to suicide than while incarcerated.
The poorer someone is the more vulnerable they are to being abused, to becoming an abuser, the more vulnerable to negative behaviours, the more vulnerable to doing drugs, to dealing drugs, to family violence, to violence with anyone. There is collective and cumulative trauma among the poorest of this nation’s First Peoples. It is internalised as racism because it is racism. The racial inequalities were manufactured, the perpetuation of gross disparities belong to culprit governments who neglect their responsibility to redress, who refuse to do the work on the ground to improve the lot of those whom they have marginalised. It’s despicable for governments to trumpet change through apologies and symbolism alone but to deny communities the right to an equivalency of standards of living.
Symbolism may have its place – flags, dates, voices – but without the actual inequalities addressed then symbolism alone will betray once again those who for half a century since the first suite of symbolic gestures were left to behind to rot. More collective, cumulative and transmittable trauma.
The Black youth that offend, that present before the criminal justice system – the judges know their lot – poverty, induced by racism, transmitted by one generation to the next, toxically compounded by a society that just does not care about them. A significant proportion of this offending youth have spent most of their young lives in the care of the state while the rest have spent it in train-wreck childhoods. This understanding should be shared by legislators and judges to relieve them of any racial and classist biases and instead mitigate a focus on how to support these children.
One in 9 of Perth’s Aboriginal children are in the care of the state, while one in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adult males are incarcerated – the world’s highest incarceration rate.
The youth justice system continues to long fail these children, and appears to have given up on them. The Royal Commission into the Don Dale abuses has dished up more recommendations that effectively only highlight issues but offer next to nothing in remedies, in the ways forward. Therefore the biases in the criminal justice systems and in our governments will continue. The system forcefully continues against this marginalised youth.
Only raindrops of cohorts of adult and juvenile prisoners are supported with education and training and counselling and mentoring while incarcerated. Clearly this signifies Australia does not care about them.
Where are the roads to different futures?
Most of us now we do not need more reviews of what is wrong, we do not need more reports highlighting systemic failures, we do not need more inexpert social commentators and certainly we do not need more inexpert individuals who speak through a nepotistic commissioned title. There is no greater legacy than to improve the lot of others, to change lives. This is done through relentless psychosocial support and mentoring, by taking someone by the hand and walking alongside them in their journey and leaving behind their frightening traumas and negative selves. Change can occur in weeks and months, positive selves will take over.
The investment needs to be in relentless psychosocial support. Bastion institutions need to change in how they see and engage with train-wreck lives, with the poor. The criminal justice system has to do away with its racial biases that for two generations have seen record numbers of young people locked up. Legislators must do away with their racial biases that lead them to punishing those whom they have marginalised. They will not.
If judges and parliamentarians only whisper who they should have been in the twilight of their days on this earth then rest assured that by 2025 one in two of the national prison population will be comprised of the First Peoples. The future will be bleaker than it has ever been for the marginalised and the downtrodden.