Reforms to address high jail rates
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.