Australia’s backwater, Western Australia continues to incarcerate First People at not only the nation’s highest rate but also among the world’s highest jailing rates. Too few in our parliaments have stood up to say that they will do something about it. I have heard far too many of those born into privilege, who wield excessive influence, who are in high office and who believe that “it is the burden (Aboriginal people) wake up to each day”, “it is the lot of Aboriginal people”. They argue that the extinguishing of racism is a long journey. But truth is their complacency and inaction, their justifications, are veils and layers of racism.
Too few speak out and too few back the ways forward, and in so doing languish people in dungeons of senseless despair. Australia is one of the most racist nations on the planet. The statistics are loud and clear on the racism, on the Black and White divide. Australia is home to the world’s 12th largest economy, is the 2nd wealthiest nation per capita, and boasts the world’s highest median wages. Western Australia is the wealthiest jurisdiction in the Australian nation, with the nation’s highest median wages.
With all this wealth, there is no excuse for the third-world-akin impoverishment of more than 100,000 of the continent’s First Peoples. Tens of thousands First People live in corrals of misery – in what are in effect shanty towns. The racist divide is damaging the national consciousness, reigniting the cheap racism that abuses First Peoples as inferior, as incapable. This racist divide with its pronounced inhumanity, year in year out, is making the poorest poorer, with arrest and imprisonment rates, with reoffending increasing.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics 2014, the Northern Territory had the highest imprisonment rate – 850 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, a shocking rate. Western Australia follows with 264 prisoners per 100,000 adult population, another shocking rate. But the true picture is only understood if we disaggregate the data. I began doing this ten years ago during the first of two separate Masters. My research focused in unveiling governmental racist policies that I argued lead to what I describe as racialised imprisonment.
According to the latest ABS reporting, the highest Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment rate for the June quarter 2014 was recorded in Western Australia – 3,661 Aboriginal and Torres Strait prisoners per 100,000 per 100,000 adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. This unbelievable rate in a State with an overall imprisonment rate of 264 prisoners per 100,000 population. No-one in their right mind can argue that this is not racialised imprisonment. The Northern Territory Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population is jailed at a 2,861 per 100,000, and South Australia’s First Peoples at 2,388. The more west one goes on this continent the worse it is for First People – the worse the arrest, imprisonment, homeless and suicide rates.
The Western Australian Aboriginal adult male imprisonment rate often surpasses 4,000 prisoners per 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population. The mother of all jailers, the United States of America incarcerates its Black male population at a jailing rate around 4,000 per 100,000.
Today, one in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult males are in jail. Let me state this again, one in 13. Unless something changes, unless the Western Australian parliament gets its act together and starts discussing its racism, its jailing rates, its neglect of the First Peoples in the wealthiest jurisdiction of the 2nd wealthiest nation per capita on this planet, then it is only going to get worse.
Privilege often has an intolerance of the poor, and privilege coupled with racism is disastrous – an unbridgeable chasm.
Having worked with people pre-release and post-release from jail, it is my view that they come out worse than they went in. The majority of first offenders are criminalised for poverty-related minor offences. But jail breaks them, despairs them, ruins them. This is evident in the high suicide and unnatural death rates post-release within the first six months. This is evident in the high reoffending rates. Second, third and fourth offences are usually more serious than the first offence.
Jail should be a last resort but it is too often a first port of call. Only legislators can change this. Jail should also be a restorative experience, one that helps people to heal from their own traumas and waywardness. We need redemption and not guilt.
One in 13 of all the State’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult males in jail is bullshit. We should not accept this. The rubbish that there is a ‘brotherhood’ and ‘sisterhood’ in prisons, and that Aboriginal youth ‘does jail’ as some sort of modern day ‘rite of passage’ is crap – more stereotypical bullshit racism shoved down our throats. Don’t mix up looking out for one another as some ‘brotherhood’ that the young aspire to. Jail is the last place they wanted to end up.