Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander imprisonment (ATSI) rates have soared by a whopping 52 per cent over the past decade. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’s now account for a quarter of Australia’s prison population.
The decade that witnessed this staggering growth in the ATSI imprisonment rate began on a high note with the Sydney Harbour Bridge Walk for Reconciliation and included former Prime Minister Rudd’s apology to the stolen generations.
During this decade the ATSI imprisonment rate surged from 1248 for every 100,000 Australian adults in 2000 to 1892 by 2010, marking a 52 per cent increase, an Australian Institute of Health and Welfare report has found.
ATSI people now make up 26 per cent of the prison population, despite making up just 2.5 per cent of the Australian population.
Almost 7,600 Indigenous Australians were behind bars in June 2010, 91 per cent of them male.
Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation national director Jacqueline Phillips said tough state law and order policies were partly to blame for the sharp increase in indigenous imprisonment rates.
“It’s an outrageous statistic, the situation is appalling. There’s a range of factors: the tough law and order approaches state governments have adopted and the failure of governments to address the social causes of poverty, homelessness and alcohol problems.”
In Western Australia and South Australia, indigenous people were 20 times more likely to be jailed.
Ms Phillips called on the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to adopt targets for reducing indigenous imprisonment rates and consider US-style early intervention programs, whereby resources to prevent crime are directed towards particular disadvantaged communities. Ms Phillips went on to comment that:
“The figures will certainly get worse unless there’s concerted efforts to address the prison rates.”
The report examined the social effects of high imprisonment rates among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people noting that:
“This not only affects the health and wellbeing of those imprisoned, but also of their families and children, adverse employment consequences and a lack of positive role-models in the community further erode the capacity of the indigenous community to support its structures.”
This is why Australia needs a Bill of Rights!
Discrimination in the exercise of power by Australia’s police and prosecutorial services services
“You don’t have to worry about your little boong mate Marky suing you for fitting him up. When I’m finished with him he’ll be in the gutter where he belongs with all his other boong mates. You will be able to piss on him as you step over him on your way to work” Australian Capital Territory Department of Public Prosecutions Prosecutor)
What these statistics don’t measure is the inbuilt bias and discrimination that exists within Australia’s law enforcement establishment. As I have mentioned previously, when I was working for a small law firm in Young NSW one of the firm’s ATSI clients was sentenced to three months imprisonment for gaining a financial advantage by deception, namely the proceeds from the sale of a one dollar raffle ticket. This was the same year in which the Australian Federal Police refused to investigate an assault committed by a ‘white’ Australian on Australia’s most senior female ATSI bank executive, in which she suffered a black eye, broken glasses and a ripped dress in an unprovoked racially motivated attack by an ACT Department of Treasury official.
If the Australian legal system was not racially biased against ATSI people, the above outcomes would have been reversed.
As I commented in my post A Day in the life of an Aborigine:
You have got the Aboriginal, or Koori on the inside and the dominant ‘white’ society on the outside. If you’re in the ghetto you can’t sit on the fence. You sit inside the fence, close to the ‘white’ society, but you can’t cross the barrier into white society. You’re never really accepted into white society, never. So if you go outside the ghetto, you’re in no man’s land.
These comments remain as true today as they were when I first wrote them many years ago. White Australia still remains unwilling to accept us as equals. Without this equality, appalling statistics such as ATSI people making up 26 per cent of the prison population, despite making up just 2.5 per cent of the Australian population, will continue to haunt our national conscious.
As I have also said before, if you are an ATSI person in contemporary Australia death remains the sole comfort, or in the words of one more famous:
Hypocrisy is your religion, and
Falsehood is your life, and
Nothingness is your ending; why,
Then, are you living? Is not
Death the sole comfort of the