Sun, May 12, 2019 - Page 4 News List

Young Aborigines 17 times more likely to be jailed

NATIONAL ‘SHAME’:In Australia children as young as 10 can go to prison, and 39% of young Aborigines were under the age of 13 when they first came into the justice system

The Guardian

Young Aborigines are 17 times more likely to be in detention than other Australians, and they are coming into the system at a much younger age, figures show.

The latest Australian Institute of Health and Welfare youth justice report found that although only 5 percent of people aged 10 to 17 are Aboriginal, they make up almost half of those under youth justice supervision.

The report has prompted calls from legal and human rights groups to increase the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14.

Human Rights Law Centre legal director Ruth Barson said it was “common sense” that children should be in playgrounds and classrooms, not prisons.

“Laws that see children as young as 10 behind bars are out of touch with common decency. Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world,” she said.

The report found 39 percent of young Aborigines were between 10 and 13 when they first came into the justice system, compared with only 15 percent of non-indigenous young people.

Change the Record — an Aboriginal-led coalition of legal, human rights and justice organizations — has called for national justice targets in the Closing the Gap strategy.

“Australia should be ashamed that the youth justice gap for our kids is widening,” Closing the Gap cochair Damian Griffis said.

The overall number and rate of young people entering juvenile justice has declined. There were about 5,500 young people under supervision on an average day from 2017 to last year, down from more than 6,250 five years previously.

Indigenous people made up close to half (48 percent) of those aged between 10 and 17 under community-based supervision and more than half (56 percent) of those in detention.

Cheryl Axleby, also a Change the Record cochair, said that the research showed that raising the age of criminal responsibility to at least 14 was necessary to end the over-incarceration of children.

“It shows serious systemic flaws when compared with non-Indigenous kids,” Axleby said.

The report found that 60 percent of children in prison were there on remand, awaiting sentence or had been denied bail.

“Our children are being criminalized for being poor at alarming rates,” Axleby said. “Most children are in prison on remand, and this is linked to the lack of public housing for Aboriginal people.”

“The next government needs to free our future by providing adequate public housing and the wraparound, Indigenous-run services that we know our kids need,” she said.

Aboriginal young people were over-represented in youth justice supervision in every state and territory, with the highest level of over-representation in Western Australia, where young Aborigines were 27 times as likely to be in the system than non-indigenous children.

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