Damning findings on Indigenous incarceration in WA

Damning findings on Indigenous incarceration in WA
Damning findings on Indigenous incarceration in WA

A damning report into Western Australia's rates of detention for young Indigenous offenders has been welcomed by the department responsible for locking them up.

(Transcript from SBS World News Radio)

A damning report into Western Australia's rates of detention for young Indigenous offenders has been welcomed by the department responsible for locking them up.

The report, three years in the making, says young Indigenous people are 52 times more likely to end up in detention than their non-Indigenous peers in the west.

The state's department of corrective services says it welcomes the scrutiny, and wants to do things differently.

Ryan Emery reports.

(Click on the audio tab above to hear the full report)

Locked up in detention is the last place Western Australia's Indigenous children should be, says Amnesty International.

But most of the state's young inmates are Indigenous.

A new report by Amnesty International claims that 10 to 17 year old Indigenous children account for almost 80 per cent of the children in detention despite only accounting for six per cent of that age group in WA.

The report also says Indigenous youth are 52 times more likely to be locked up than their non-Indigenous peers.

It also says Indigenous youth are diverted by police only 35 per cent of the time, compared to 59 per cent for non-Indigenous youth.

Claire Mallinson, the national director of Amnesty International, was in Perth for the report's release.

"So why has Amnesty International turned its attention to WA? Well sadly because Western Australia locks up Indigenous children at the highest rate in the country. The overrepresentation of children in detention is shameful. It's shameful right across Australia, but it's staggeringly shameful here in WA where it's twice as bad."

The state's chief justice Wayne Martin described the findings as appalling.

He says the justice system must accept some of the blame.

Amnesty International says the state must focus on justice reinvestment.

Claire Mallinson says it's cheaper to keep young people out of jail.

"And I'm saying to the leaders that it's not about spending more money. It's actually about pulling that spending out of the bottomless pit of the justice system and redirecting it into Aboriginal-led prevention and diversionary programs that work. It's a win-win for all Australians. It's a win-win for everybody in WA."

Jarrad Oakley Nicholls is an Indigenous mentor for the Wirrpanda foundation that was established by former AFL footballer David Wirrpanda.

He says many Indigenous youth have poor self esteem, come from broken homes and are in dysfunctional relationships.

"A lot of them don't think that they belong. They don't think that people care about them when that's far from what the truth is. There's a number of family members that might have different issues - drugs and alcohol - but they care about their children. I don't think they should be taken off their parents, but them parents need to be supported in a way where they can support their children."

Corrective Services Minister Joe Francis says the government is committed to looking at more diversionary programs for young offenders.

But he makes no apology about looking up serious young offenders.

The minister told SBS in a statement that the state government had made significant inroads in reducing the number of young Aboriginal people in detention.

He says there are fewer young Aboriginal people in detention in WA now than there were two years ago.

He says 98 were in detention as of June 8 this year, compared to 136 as at January 20, 2013.

He says the 98 current detainees have been sentenced, or are on remand, for extremely serious crimes including manslaughter, sexual assault, armed robbery, hijacking and other acts of violence.

The commissioner for the department of corrective services James McMahon says he welcomes the scrutiny the report brings.

He says it highlights the significant changes in the way service providers and the department address the circumstances and challenges that lead to high rates of offending among Indigenous people.

Mr McMahon says the creation of a Youth Justice Board to address the issues of young people in detention is already making headway.

It's been given an extra $2 million for diversionary programs including a new Indigenous mentoring program for offenders in detention and the community.