Legal service slams WA govt’s “despicable” plans for mandatory sentencing

BY AMY MCQUIRE | Tracker Magazine


Australia is a world beater in its incarceration of Aboriginal people, with the highest Indigenous jailing rates on earth.

NATIONAL: The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA has slammed the state government’s push to expand mandatory and minimum sentencing laws, saying it will only jail more Aboriginal people.

Aboriginal people are 20 times more likely to be jailed in the state than their non-Indigenous counterparts – the highest ratio in the country – and incarceration rates are soaring.

Western Australia locks up more Aboriginal juveniles in proportion to population than any other state.

An Aboriginal child is 40 times more likely to be put in custody compared to a non-Aboriginal child.

As part of its election campaign, the Barnett government has announced it wants to increase the controversial mandatory sentencing regime to a minimum of two years jail for juveniles over 16 who commit three or more break and enters.

That’s an increase from the current penalty of 12 months jail.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of WA has called the plans “despicable” and says mandatory sentencing does not prevent crime.
ALSWA Director of Legal Services Peter Collins said in a statement that the government should seriously explore alternative options, rather than the tough on crime law and order approach.

“This sort of approach does not work and never will,” Mr Collins said.

“This is nothing more than an exercise in the politics of fear.

“By proposing to extend mandatory sentencing, both major parties have shown that they are more interested in looking tough on crime than in actually tackling it.”

The legal service says the only thing “mandatory sentencing has ever achieved is to disproportionately target the most disadvantaged groups in society, especially Aboriginal people.”

Mr Collins says that the new proposal could only worsen Indigenous incarceration rates.

“People may not care too much about that now, but they might when they learn how much it’s going to cost to build new jails to accommodate everyone,” Mr Collins said.

He said that imprisonment was not a deterrent and that the recidivism rates for Aboriginal imprisonment were high.

“Crimes committed by Aboriginal people are often motivated by poverty, substance abuse or mental illness, or any combination of the three, and that the changes proposed by the Liberal Party will invariably deliver injustice,” the legal service said.

Mr Collins said that it hurts the chance of Aboriginal children getting their lives back on track, and staying clear of the criminal justice system.

“Imagine a 16 year old Aboriginal boy who suffers from foetal alcohol syndrome, is illiterate and lives in abject poverty who commits three burglaries by entering houses through unlocked doors to stealing food because he is desperately hungry.

“Under the proposed changes, this boy, who could be any one of our clients, is a victim of the circumstances of his birth, but under proposed laws, would be imprisoned for two years.”

The ALSWA is calling on the government to look at a fresh approach that addresses the underlying causes of crime.

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