'Doing Time - Time for Doing' report - no great shock

pdf Doing Time - Time for Doing Report June 2011 pdf file - (3560 KB)
Australian Government - Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs
No Way To Forget (1996) - Short Film by Richard Frankland No Way To Forget (1996) - A Short Film by Richard Frankland (11 Minutes)
A field officer for the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody is haunted by spirits of the past.
Doin' Time

By Ray Jackson, President, Indigenous Social Justice Association

the 'doing time - time for doing' report, indigenous youth in the criminal justice system for the house of representatives standing committee on aboriginal and torres strait islander affairs, june 2011, finally brings our politicians, or at least those who may deign to peruse it, up to date as to the correct statistics of the australian custodial systems for atsi inmates.

the statistics come as no great shock to those of us who follow such events with both interest and a growing alarm as to the complete and utter failure of australian governments and their relative departments who have responsibility for the poor outcomes that continue to occur and recur year after year.

having browsed through the 378 pages of the report one is definitely struck by a rather frustrated déjá vu when reading the recommendations of the report. one is easily drawn back to 1991 and the release of the aboriginal deaths in custody royal commission and its 339 recommendations of which the then-hawke government promptly accepted 338 of them.

how many times must the most important of those recommendations be repeated and repeated again and again in an ongoing enthusiasm of reports and studies and critiques ad nauseum. all to be shelved.

why after 20 years are we still calling for court interpreters? why are we still calling for cross-cultural training for the police forces? why are we still calling for arrest and gaoling as a matter of last resort? and so on and so on. when are the governments and their departments going to fully accept that they must take these recommendations and legally enforce them to become an every day practice and procedure of every part of the custodial system?

i have watched in a slow growing horror for over 20 years the custodial systems tweak themselves and invest in buzzwords only to continue to reinvent themselves and go through the motions of 'doing something' as disaster leads to disaster and my people become a larger growth phenomenon year after year. during the 90's the nsw corrective services publicly issued the statistics of inmates on a gaol by gaol basis. aboriginality was also listed. when the aboriginal inmates reached 1000+ the then-senior assistant commissioner, ron woodham, stopped the statistics being made public. that however did not dim our voices in protest at the ever growing numbers.

the failure of the governments is their blind faith that their departments will somehow find the right way without guidance whilst history shows us the complete opposite is the truth of the matter. self policing quickly becomes self protection and self preservation. those who are paid for their work within the systems must accept that they have an innate duty of care towards those for whom they carry a responsibility. they also have a duty of care to themselves and their fellow workers. that is what makes us human.

when the royal commissioners, appalled by the complete bastardry of the custodial systems, put up some 170 recommendations in a hopeful attempt to humanise the systems on behalf of atsi peoples, they just did not realise the resistance with which such recommendations would be received. the police forces led the pack in their pure contempt at what they saw as nothing less than social engineering and gross interference in how they were to deal with the nations' criminal classes of which atsi peoples were seen to be a major part. whilst the police remained, and still do to this day, obdurate and with a callous indifference to what had been put to them in good faith the other sections of the systems took a more relaxed view and picked over the recommendations to find those that could be accepted without too much change occurring.

self regulation just does not work. it does not work for business enterprises and multinationals nor for government departments. governments need to bite the custodial bullets and fire them directly at their employees. if governments really believe their utterances that they do want to see positive changes in the custodial systems and the lessening of deaths in custody and gaol populations then they must enforce the relevant recommendations apropos to and from the royal commission up to the doing time reports.


ray jackson
indigenous social justice association

There are political problems, and there are real problems

Annabel Crabb ABC Online Opinion Jun 21, 2011

In the years between 2000 and 2009, the incarceration rate for Indigenous Australians rose by 66 per cent. (AAP: Dave Hunt, file photo)

Tony Abbott is on his way out to Queanbeyan to empathise with yet another small business about how unlivable life will be under the carbon tax. Steve Fielding, a man who used to dress up as a soda-pop bottle, sternly derides Mr Abbott's national plebiscite proposal as "a stunt". In Parliament House, Labor MPs sweat on in fear of their dicey living arrangements on the government benches.

But in the House of Representatives last night, a report was tabled that gives us a pretty stern reminder of what real problems look like. Called Doing Time - Time For Doing, it's a considered look at how many Aboriginal youths are in custody, and why, 20 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

In fact, if you read nothing else this week, you should read this report.

In the years between 2000 and 2009, the incarceration rate for Indigenous Australians rose by 66 per cent.

Between 2000 and 2010, the actual number of Aboriginal men in prisons rose by 55 per cent, and the number of women rose by 47 per cent.

These figures are confronting enough, but the most depressing part of the report is the extent to which the figures are the result of life-long cycles in which incredibly simple problems can snowball into a lifetime of disadvantage.

Take hearing, for example.

According to the report, 70 per cent of remote Indigenous adults have hearing loss or problems. The committee heard evidence from everywhere that hearing problems among children are endemic among Aboriginal communities.

When a child can't hear properly, the likelihood that they will stay and engage in school, make friends or learn is dramatically curtailed. School dropouts are more likely to be bored and try booze or drugs. Adolescents who can't hear are more likely to get into arguments with police, or to appear insolent. Deaf teenagers are more likely to talk too loudly, exaggerating the appearance of aggression.

Australian Hearing, which provides free treatment for children under the Hearing Services Program, doesn't visit juvenile detention centres.

Everything in this report reinforces the story; a grim cycle of substance abuse, boredom, violence and missed opportunities to connect with circuit breakers.

"We have reached the point of inter-generational family dysfunction in many Indigenous communities, with problems of domestic violence, alcohol and drug abuse, inadequate housing, poor health and school attendance, and a lack of job skills and employment of Indigenous Aborigines," the report concludes.

Seemingly unconnected factors - like the low rate of birth registration in Aboriginal communities - make the situation worse. Kids without birth certificates face problems getting driving licences, but also enrolling in formal sporting programs of the type that have been demonstrated to help keep them out of trouble. The report mentions a pilot project in Dubbo in 2006 that arranged birth certificates to be issued for 750 individuals, 500 of whom went on to participate in organised activities.

The innovative organisation Midnight Basketball, which provides dinner, classes and a ride home to young people in return for participation in late-night basketball tournaments, also got a gong in the report, deservingly.

But the report, compiled by Queensland Labor MP Shayne Neumann and his bipartisan committee, is a confronting read.

In 2007, Indigenous kids made up 59 per cent of the numbers in juvenile detention.

This is despite the fact that Indigenous Australians represent only 2.5 per cent of the population.

Often, political debate in Australia is a competition between politicians and the media to encourage social or industry groups to feel hard-done-by.

But real hardship doesn't come and go as the result of new taxes, or program cuts here and there. Real hardship is grim and tangled and unimaginably difficult to solve.

Annabel Crabb is ABC Online's chief political writer.