Tony Abbott would see the indigenous incarceration rate rise just to save $9m

ATSI make up only 2% of the national populace yet they comprise 30% of the prison population
ATSI make up only 2% of the national populace yet they comprise 30% of the prison population

Mass indigenous imprisonment seems to be a trend for colonial governments – Australia though, appears to pride itself on a whole new different meaning of systemic racism. Yesterday PM Tony Abbott announced funding cuts to the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, in a bid to save the Government $9-13m over a period of three years. There will also be cuts to all legal aid community centres and domestic violence prevention facilities (a further $30m). Evidently the Prime Minister would rather invest corporate cash to build bigger prisons, to house the growing indigenous prison rate of course, than to invest in early intervention and legal aid services. One could be driven to believe that Tony Abbott wants to imprison people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent. The fact that this decision was not included in Abbott’s Indigenous Advisory Council review of Government spending on indigenous platforms, paints his talk of a ‘better Australia for Indigenous people groups’ as utter political jargon.

There is no doubt that the funding cuts will exacerbate an already ridiculously high incarceration rate for Indigenous Australians:

  • Indigenous youth make up 50% of youth correction facilities;
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are 18 times more likely to be incarcerated as opposed to other Australians;
  • ATSI make up only 2% of the national populace yet they comprise 30% of the prison population;
  • Between 2000-2012 the amount of Indigenous prisoners inflated by 64% as opposed to a 5% rise for other Australians;
  • 1 in 3 Australian prisoners are of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Island descent (it is looking more and more likely that in 10 years it will rise to 1 in 2);
  • The Indigenous incarceration rate in Western Australia is the highest Aboriginal imprisonment ratio in the world;
  • 1 in 3 ATSI die before their 45th birthday

At the end of the day the cut back will see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders locked up; it will further breakdown Indigenous families; and it will increase not decrease government spending on corrections and prison facilities. The infinitesimal financial ‘saving’ is a racist political maneuver in order to keep Indigenous people where they are (and have been for centuries) – at the bottom of the socio-economic scale and clearly still segregated from mainstream Australian social norms. It is disgusting that ATSI account for 30% of the prison populace but are only 2% of the national population, yet Tony Abbott has the audacity to cut funding to vital legal services and still proclaim himself as ‘Prime Minister of Indigenous Affairs’. The rate for ATSI males is nearly 6 times the rate that Black African males were imprisoned during the final era of South African apartheid, but the Abbott government wants to make it worse just to save a few million per year? Something is seriously wrong with that, seriously, if the Australian government is aiming to be the Indigenous prison capital of the world, it’s sadly already a reality – there’s no need to further cement the ‘prestigious’ accolade.

Australia’s criminal justice system, just like New Zealand’s, is broken and biased towards the incarceration of Indigenous people groups and the continual affirmation of systemic racism. At a cost of around $100,000 per prisoner per year – the cost of the ATSI prison populace alone is close to $900,000,000 per annum – Abbott seems to want to spend big on the wrong end of the justice system. For some odd reason Tony Abbott is shuffling his finances in which emphasis is on imprisonment rather than the prevention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander incarceration. Something is systemically wrong with that picture; I hope others see it too.

 

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