Re­forms to ad­dress high jail rates

Kalgoorlie Miner - - NEWS - Clare Kenyon

Cre­at­ing safer jail en­vi­ron­ments and re­duc­ing sen­tenc­ing for lowlevel of­fend­ers are mea­sures the State Gov­ern­ment will take to tackle high rates of Abo­rig­i­nal in­car­cer­a­tion and deaths in cus­tody.

In re­sponse to a public com­mit­ment made in Oc­to­ber 2014, Premier Colin Bar­nett an­nounced on Wed­nes­day he would es­tab­lish a Jus­tice Min­is­ters Work­ing Group to over­see de­vel­op­ment of re­form.

The re­forms will fo­cus on three key ar­eas: cre­at­ing safer cus­tody en­vi­ron­ments, in­tro­duc­ing leg­is­la­tion to avoid jail time for lowlevel of­fend­ers and a greater fo­cus on pre­vent­ing Abo­rig­i­nal youth from en­ter­ing the jus­tice sys­tem.

Po­lice Min­is­ter Liza Har­vey, Cor­rec­tive Ser­vices Min­is­ter Joe Fran­cis and At­tor­ney Gen­eral Michael Mischin will be re­spon­si­ble for im­ple­ment­ing the re­forms, and the group’s progress will be de­tailed through an­nual re­ports.

The over-rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple in cus­tody came to a head last Oc­to­ber af­ter the death of a 22-year-old Abo­rig­i­nal woman who was in cus­tody for un­paid fines.

At the time, Mr Bar­nett made a per­sonal com­mit­ment at a protest rally in Perth to re­duce the in­car­cer­a­tion rates in WA say­ing: “I will do that, and then you can judge me on whether I suc­ceed or not, but I give you that com­mit­ment to­day.”

Abo­rig­i­nal pris­on­ers ac­count for nearly 40 per cent of the prison pop­u­la­tion, with more than a third of that num­ber be­hind bars for low-level of­fences.

A damn­ing Amnesty In­ter­na­tional re­port re­leased last month found in­dige­nous youth were 52 times more likely to be in jail and the na­tion was “at cri­sis point”, with the worst in­car­cer­a­tion rates be­ing in WA.

While wel­com­ing the Premier’s an­nounce­ment, La­bor Mem­ber for Min­ing and Pas­toral Re­gion Stephen Daw­son said it was dis­ap­point­ing fund­ing had not been in­cluded in this year’s Bud­get for early-in­ter­ven­tion pro­grams.

“At this stage we’ve just got words so it’s easy to be cyn­i­cal while the Premier has not made a fi­nan­cial com­mit­ment to­wards tack­ling the prob­lems,” he told the Kal­go­or­lie Miner. “If we are go­ing to stop the high num­bers of Abo­rig­i­nal peo­ple go­ing into prison and halt the num­bers of deaths in cus­tody… money needs to be spent tack­ling re­cidi­vism and we need to break the cy­cle.”

Mr Bar­nett said more de­tails would be re­leased to the public over time.

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