Combating the rising tide of beat-ups

Newspapers are becoming two-trick ponies: ‘Leadership challenge’ and ‘Crime scare’. On crime, if they would only look at the facts and figures, they would realise that crime is DOWN dramatically. The new game in town is saving taxpayers money by minimising the number of people in jail, where they cost us about $100,000 a year each. CLA’s man in the West, Rex Widerstrom, sets the Sunday Times straight.

16 April 2013

 The Editor
The Sunday Times
Perth, WA 6000

Via email:

 Dear Sir:

 If I were to write to your newspaper every time it publishes a crime story clearly designed to alarm the populace about a supposed rising tide of offending it would be a full time job, but I cannot let your latest effort go unremarked.

 Your headline on 14 April 2013 reads “1000 are freed to reoffend”, and then in the first paragraph says “40 percent of the 7660 adults with a CBO [community based order] last year were hauled back before the courts…”

 One has to read further before the truth becomes evident. Just 6.62% offended by committing a crime that in any way involved a victim. The “crimes” of the remainder were such heinous acts as failing to keep an appointment with their corrections officer.

Unlike your journalists I have spent considerable time at Community Justice offices.  Because the State government won’t pay overtime, they close at 5 o’clock. So imagine you’re on a CBO. You arrive at the appointed time, only to be told your hopelessly over-burdened officer is busy and you have to wait. Because every employer demands a National Police Clearance you’ve struggled to get a job, and now your lunch hour ticks by and still no sign of your officer.

 Your choice is stay, jeopardising your job; or leave, jeopardising your freedom. Often, stressed “clients” end up choosing the latter and walking out. But the rules say that if you’re not there when your name is called, you’re breached.

 If your newspaper did its job of holding the government to account rather than helping it generate fear in the community so it can campaign for re-election on a “law ‘n’ order” platform then you would know the corrections system – both inside and outside our prisons – is falling apart. Officers are stressed, overworked and, most gravely of all, regularly placed in dangerous situations. Our prisons are an overcrowded disgrace which in some parts are reminiscent of the glimpses we see on TV of Indonesian jails. Of course cameras are never allowed into our jails unless the journalists agree to be complicit in filming only what the government wants them to see.

 For the record, here are the real annual statistics, for the years starting with 2012 and working backwards:

 Offences against the person:

2012:              23,552
2011:              32,091
2010:              32,479
2009:              32,922
2008:              34,492
2007:              33,890

 Offences against property:
2012:              110,434
2011:              160,445
2010:              152,649
2009:              143,844
2008:              169,263
2007:              177,846

 Crime in WA hasn’t risen sharply: quite the opposite. Police were keeping it in check till last year, when it fell even more sharply – by 26.6% for offences against the person and 31.2% for property offences.

 A newspaper which was doing its job would be asking the Premier and Attorney General why, when crime is falling – including crimes against the person, which one would broadly assume would be most likely to attract a custodial sentence – our prison musters are rising to record levels.

 Every prisoner costs WA taxpayers about $100,000 a year to feed and house. If your newspaper and our politicians are happy for that bill to keep increasing, perhaps you’d like to put your hands up to pay it?

 Yours sincerely


Rex Widerstrom
state Director (WA)
Civil Liberties Australia

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