We are on the Titanic and we are sinking while those at the helm carry on as if they are oblivious to the fact we have hit the iceberg. For the third consecutive year we learn that the incarceration rates of our First People youth and adults have increased. This is an indictment of our leaders as if mission managers who think their sick system will somehow miraculously prevail.
We need to start from scratch.
According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), the children of First Peoples are 24 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aboriginal children.
The AIHW Youth justice report – http://www.aihw.gov.au/youth-justice/ – tells us nothing new except that the gap is widening. Why are our Governments sticking by a failed system? It can only be due to our parliamentarians not caring enough to make a difference, because if they did care there would be the self evident political will to pursue real change. Our criminal justice system is a mess. It jails the poor, jails the broken-spirited, jails the victims of racism. It jails those from the poorest and cruellest of social circumstances. Obnoxiously, politicians resist the urge to do anything about social health.
They are so bent on punishing crime – most of it poverty-related – that they come up with crueler, more harsh punishments. But mandatory sentencing, longer sentences, more offences have only led to more people in jails.
It is my experience as a researcher in custodial systems, as a long-time prison visitor, as someone who has worked with people pre- and post-release that in general people come out of prison worse than they went in.
In Western Australia, the nation’s mother of jailers, the children of First Peoples are 52 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Aboriginal children.
University of NSW criminologist, Professor Chris Cunneen told Sydney Morning Herald journalist, Inga Ting, “(The development of programs) needs to begin in the community, with some level of community control.”
This is in good part the right direction – community control. However the social health of a community determines what can and cannot be achieved. The wealthier the social health of a community the less the poverty related self-destructive behaviour and violence. Far too many communities – Homelands – of First Peoples have been degraded by Government neglect – many have been induced into extreme poverty.
If those looking for solutions are not looking into social health, not working with the social determinants – then they will go nowhere, and indeed they will get to somewhere even worse, fast.
In 2011, the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Index ranked Australia number 2 in the world for social health, behind only Norway. However at the time, I disaggregated the Human Development Index to the First Peoples of this continent and found that standalone they had an equivalent global ranking of 122nd. This year my research reported that they have slipped even further to an equivalent ranking of 132.
Incarceration rates of non-Aboriginal youth and adults are decreasing because there is the backdrop of high levels of positive social health to work with, to tap into.
There are 6,200 children aged 10 years to 17 years old incarcerated in Australia’s juvenile detention facilities.
3,000 of these detainees are the children of First Peoples. First Peoples are less than 3 per cent the total national population. The world’s mother of all jailers is the United States of America who jails one per cent of her total population. No other nation on earth comes close. But when we peer from a racialised lens we find Australia incarcerates Aboriginal children at the world’s highest rate.
One per cent of Australia’s children are incarcerated.
The Aboriginal children of Australia are jailed at a higher rate than the children of the United States of America – the mother of all jailers.
Half the population of this continent’s First Peoples are aged less than 18 years of age. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander children make up 6 per cent of Australia’s total population of children. The trend is that over the next ten years the adult jail rates of First Peoples will increase – dramatically.
I have been writing about this for years. So have many others. We have one report after another on the statistical narratives and the trends. The rehash of arguments on the ways forward have now reached the insulting. I will not patronise readers with more of the same. The only ways forward are to do away with our parliamentarians and to hit the streets and demand change.