ALSWA calls for bipartisan commitment to justice reinvestment
It’s time for the State Government to take action to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children in Western Australia’s criminal justice system.
The Aboriginal Legal Service of Western Australia (ALSWA) CEO, Dennis Eggington, has welcomed the completion of a recent report into Australia’s children’s courts, in the hope that it will spark a renewed focus on this issue.
“The findings of the National Assessment of Australia’s Children’s Courts reinforce what ALSWA has been saying for years: Western Australia’s juvenile justice system is in a state of crisis,” Mr Eggington said.
Western Australia has the highest incarceration rate for Aboriginal children in Australia, with close to 75 per cent of juveniles in custody being Aboriginal.
Mr Eggington said that systemic failure in Western Australia’s criminal justice system is one of the primary causes of the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children, and must be a focus of any reforms.
“It is well established that issues such as over-policing, the poor use of diversionary schemes by WA police, and the growing number of criminal laws that disproportionately impact Aboriginal people are key drivers,” Mr Eggington said.
“Many of these systemic issues could actually be resolved, or certainly better managed, if there was real political interest.
“But reform of our criminal justice system alone will never be enough. The underlying cause of Aboriginal overrepresentation – the historic social and economic deprivation inflicted on Aboriginal peoples since colonisation – must be addressed.”
Mr Eggington called for a bipartisan commitment to adopting a Justice Reinvestment model in Western Australia, which would see some of the funds spent on imprisonment diverted to prevention and early intervention programs in communities where there is a high concentration of offenders.
“By redirecting money to education, health and other programs and services that will address the underlying causes of offending, a Justice Reinvestment approach would empower local Aboriginal communities and help to strengthen Aboriginal families.
“We know that this model has been successful overseas, resulting in a significant reduction in imprisonment rates and improvements in social outcomes in target communities, without an additional cost to government.
“As a society, Western Australia has spent too much time talking about this problem. Justice Reinvestment offers a pragmatic, cost neutral and proven way forward. It’s now time for action.”