Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan – Photo, http://www.perthnow.com.au
Western Australia’s Aboriginal youth are being detained in juvenile detention centres at the world’s highest rate. The WA Police Commissioner said that it is time to tackle various social determinants in order to tackle juvenile crime.
More than 70 per cent of the WA juvenile detention centre population is Aboriginal.
Commissioner O’Callaghan said that more police and more prisons are not the answers to addressing juvenile crime.
“Indigenous youth have special vulnerabilities and it is no secret that they are grossly over-represented in the justice system,” said the Commissioner.
“The rates of Indigenous juvenile offending are so high that solving this problem alone will make a very significant difference to the community if we can find a way of addressing the drivers.”
Commissioner O’Callaghan said the (negative) socioeconomic determinants have to be addressed.
“Children with early development vulnerability may lack stability in the home, may have been the subject of poor parenting, may be in an environment of substance abuse or may suffer from mental and physical illness. These issues have to be addressed,” he said.
Outgoing WA Corrective Services Commissioner, Ian Johnson said, “Hate the crime, don’t hate the criminal. If you hate the criminal, you are never going to be able to get your job done.”
In recent times there has been increasing public discussion about Justice Reinvestment, about changing sentencing regimes, about reducing the prison population, about mitigating Aboriginal identity into sentencing, about spending more on post-prison release programs and of encouraging employers with wage subsidies to provide jobs to recently released Aboriginal youth.
The relentless tough on crime approach by State and Federal Governments during the last two decades has seen a doubling of the nation’s prison population, with more than one in four of all prisoners being Aboriginal. This tough on crime approach has failed to reduce crime and failed to reduce re-offending. What has instead happened is that Australia now owns the highest incarceration rates in the world of a particular people. Australia incarcerates Aboriginal adult males and Aboriginal youth at the world’s highest rates.
A Federal Parliamentary Inquiry into Justice Reinvestment, led by Senator Penny Wright, is doing the rounds at this time and will report its findings and recommendations later this year. The inquiry received 118 submissions from Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal organisations. The committee members are looking over the evidence from the United States where it appears Justice Reinvestment is working. According to the US Council of State Governments Justice Centre which has been monitoring Justice Reinvestment, the positive evidence suggests a must-do whole of the nation approach and implementation.
Some of the initiatives within Justice Reinvestment include adequately funding substance abuse and mental health programs and services outside of prisons – post-release programs are imperative.
According to the US Justice Centre tens of thousands of prisoners who may have re-offended have not, and in turn this has saved the various States which have implemented Justice Reinvestment programs collectively billions of taxpayer dollars.
WA’s Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis is keen to spend some of the State’s nearly $700 million Corrective Services budget on whole-of-community interventionist and prevention programs. At this time only $2 million of the budget has been spent on this.
If the Western Australian Government is going to implement Justice Reinvestment programs and address the negative social determinants that Commissioner O’Callaghan has described then they will have to do much of it from the Corrective Services allocations. The Federal Government’s May 14 Budget failed to allocate a single dollar to Justice Reinvestment.