Aboriginal youth incarceration on the rise


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Capitalism offers no solutions to Indigenous people

A series of articles published in The Australian newspaper last month have put the issue of Aboriginal youth incarceration rates back on the political agenda. A number of recent reports have shown that the situation is getting worse. The problem is that the major parties have no genuine solutions to the problems facing Indigenous Australians.

Aboriginal adults are jailed at 14 times the rate of non-Aboriginal people. For juveniles it’s much worse with the rate being 31 times that of non-Aboriginal people. Every night about 1,000 teenagers are locked up in juvenile detention centres. Half of these teenagers are Aboriginal boys.

Clearly many of the issues facing Aboriginal youth stem from the fact that their living conditions are getting worse and not better. When European settlers arrived in Australia in 1788 they effectively stole Aboriginal land and resources. Many subsequently also had children and wages stolen from them. A new and oppressive way of life was forced upon them without their consent.

There have been no real attempts to address the problems that have arisen from this traumatic experience. One measly apology from Kevin Rudd has not done anything of substance. Twenty two years have passed since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded and still there has been little to no action taken.

The Northern Territory intervention, which was put in place under the false guise of improving conditions for Aboriginal people, has only further marginalised and isolated people.

In the Northern Territory Aboriginal youth currently comprise 99% of all detained juveniles. This is higher than the 96% average over the past three years. As much as $3 billion was spent on prisons in 2011, yet funding for healthcare and rehabilitation services has been in decline with only 30 facilities providing drug and alcohol treatment to Aboriginal people nationwide.

In a searing indictment of Australian capitalism, some young offenders have actually stated that they try and get locked up in order to have a roof over their head and three meals a day.
Clearly the issues that lead disadvantaged youth to commit a crime need to be addressed. Sending people to prison while ignoring the root causes of crime will only lead to the situation getting even worse.

Research shows that increasing sentences and mandatory detention does not decrease crime. Locking people up at a young age only increases the chances of an unstable life where they will most likely be in and out of jail for years. Far more effective would be a focus on health care, education and jobs with real wages.

Immense amounts of wealth exist in the natural resources that are found in and around remote Aboriginal communities. The problem is that the wealth is being funnelled into the pockets of the mining barons and is not being spent on local communities.

Often mining companies offer tiny amounts of money to local Aboriginal communities in return for the right to dig resources out of the ground. These payouts are often coupled with the government reducing funding to services in an attempt to shift costs onto the communities themselves. This process has fed into and worsened the social problems that exist.

Far from allowing big mining companies to pillage Aboriginal land, socialists call for the mining industry to be brought into public hands and put under democratic control. This way a plan could be developed to use the wealth to improve people’s living standards. At the same time we need to put an end to the discriminatory laws that exist in the Northern Territory.

Ultimately the only way to ensure that these types of reforms are made permanent is to link the fight for reforms to a fight to change the entire system. Capitalism offers no future for Aboriginal people and will only continue to drive them further into poverty. Only a democratic socialist society that focuses on human need instead of profit can genuinely close the gap between rich and poor and give Aboriginal people full control of their own affairs.

By Kat Galea

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