At long last something is being done to reduce the high imprisonment rates of minor offenders –but there is still a long way to go. Bits and pieces programs are being invested in to cut rates with specific types of offending, instead of a whole approach investment in drastically reducing various minor offending rates.
$5.5 million will be invested from Western Australia’s Royalties for Regions scheme into driving training and licensing for Aboriginal peoples in regional and remote areas.
The Aboriginal Legal Services WA CEO Dennis Eggington applauded the investment as a positive step.
The financial allocation comes five years after a State parliamentary report found that driving offences were a major contributor to the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal peoples in WA’s 14 prisons. The report highlighted the dilemmas faced by impoverished remote Aboriginal communities.
42 per cent of the WA prison population is comprised of Aboriginal peoples, with one in 14 of WA’s Aboriginal adult males in prison on any given day.
Furthermore without a capacity to get themselves licensed this would then prohibit employment opportunities.
Shadow Aboriginal Affairs portfolio holder, Yamaji Ben Wyatt headed that committee. Mr Wyatt welcomed the long-overdue implementation of the driver training and licensing program.
The announcement was timely after a recent report by the Australian Institute of Criminology describing a spike of motor vehicle related crimes, many of them leading to police pursuits.
Some mining companies sponsor driver training courses and licensing for potential Aboriginal workers.
“The inability of Aboriginal people to access a driver’s license is a major impediment for their participation in employment,” said Mr Wyatt.
The State’s Attorney-General Michael Mischin said on any given day 60 Aboriginal people are in WA’s prisons because of unlicensed driving. Additionally, 301 Aboriginal people were imprisoned in WA last year for convictions relating to unlicensed driving or for driving while under fines suspensions. There are more than 2,000 Aboriginal prisoners, with many of them incarcerated on what many argue are minor offences. WA has the highest rate of Aboriginal adult males in the world.
A WA Aboriginal person is seven times more likely to be incarcerated on driving offences than a non-Aboriginal person.
Mr Mischin said the free driver training and licensing will commence for Aboriginal peoples in the Kimberley, Pilbara and the Goldfields.
The program will actually save the Government money as the average jail term of 5.7 months of those convicted of the driving offences costs the State annually $15 million. Perhaps they should consider investing the ten million dollar save in other programs that will contribute to reducing minor offending convictions.
With 300 WA Aboriginal persons convicted each year on driving offences Mr Mischin said the project is expected to help more than 1000 Aboriginal people out of prison in the next four years.
“Driving without a valid licence has been identified as a key pathway into the criminal system, particularly for Aboriginal people, who often become trapped in a cycle of offending, fines and imprisonment,” said Mr Mischin.