12 unite against youth jailing

A proposed harsh new mandatory sentencing law – jailing even more Indigenous children – would simply increase taxes on WA citizens without clear benefit. It should be amended, CLA says.

12 unite against youth jailing

Civil Liberties Australia, Amnesty International and 1o other Indigenous and legal organisations have today sent an open letter to the Western Australian government urging it not to pass the controversial Criminal Law Amendment (Home Burglary and Other Offences) Bill 2014 in its current form.

CLA and the other organisations have called on WA Premier Colin Barnett, Attorney-General Michael Mischin and Minister for Police Liza Harvey to withdraw the bill, or at least amend it so as not to apply to children.

The 12 national and WA organisations are united in their condemnation of the bill, which expands the mandatory sentencing regime in Western Australia, including for 16-17 year olds.

“This will adversely affect Aboriginal young people who are already massively over-represented in the justice system. In 2013-2014 Indigenous young people made up 78.3% of all young people in detention in WA, 53 times more likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous young people.,” they say.

The dozen organisations across Australia have called on the WA Government to live up to its promise to reduce the rates of Indigenous people in prison.

“We have been campaigning for a decade for WA to reverse the alarming trend of rising numbers of young Indigenous people, particularly boys, being jailed,” Civil Liberties Australia CEO Bill Rowlings said.

“We have proposed specific ways to cut the numbers of them jail; and we have urged the government to provide better education to police and prosecutors about how they are contributing to the problem…but to no avail.

“Mandatory sentencing is counter-productive for the community because it produces over-jailing of young Indigenous people.

Table: Real net operating expenses per offender per day 2013-14 - Productive Commission
Table: Real net operating expenses per offender per day 2013-14 – Productive Commission

“Taxpayers are the ones footing the bill for the government’s inability to focus its law and order program better and in a more productive way. National Productivity Commission figures show that national expenditure per person in the population is higher in WA than in any other state, and is rising.

“Citizens of WA should be asking the government why are they intent on putting more people in jail, when each prisoner costs $352 a day in overall expenditure, according the Productivity Commission,” Mr Rowlings said.

The letter says: “The Government has justified this Bill on the grounds that it will increase community safety. But evidence shows that mandatory sentencing does not reduce offending rates. By increasing the number of young offenders in detention the Bill will perversely result in increased offending behaviour.”

The letter raises concerns about estimates by the Department of Corrective Services that the bill will lead to an additional 350 to 400 prisoners. It flags the estimated costs to WA taxpayers, which include $93 million for a new detention facility, $43 million in costs of detaining people caught up by the stricter bill, and the untold  social costs of many more young people being caught up in the juvenile detention system.

“This Bill also introduces mandatory minimum three-year sentences for serious violent offences committed during an aggravated home burglary. We do not downplay the seriousness of these offences, but they already carry very heavy penalties and there is no evidence the existing sentences given to 16 and 17 year olds are inadequate,” said Julian Cleary, Amnesty Indigenous campaigner.

The letter also objects to the bill’s breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the arrest or imprisonment of a child, ‘shall be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time’. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that WA’s mandatory sentencing laws are contrary to international law.

The letter is signed by:

  • Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (Inc)
  • Amnesty International Australia
  • Australian Lawyers Alliance (WA)
  • Australian Lawyers for Human Rights
  • Australians for Native Title and Reconciliation (ANTaR)
  • Civil Liberties Australia
  • Deaths in Custody Watch Committee of Western Australia Inc
  • Just Reinvest NSW
  • Mens Outreach Service
  • Mowanjum Aboriginal Corporation
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services (NATSILS)
  • Western Australian Network of Alcohol and other Drug Agencies (WANADA)
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