An Indigenous assistance group has called the WA State Government’s attempts to reduce Aboriginal incarceration rates as “disgraceful”, as WA leads the nation in people sent behind bars.
Ngalla Maya founder Mervyn Eades said the government had done very little and had taken too long to find a solution, as the state experienced a surge in both indigenous and non-indigenous people sent to jail.
“The government’s issues of working through the issues of the incarceration of my people is pathetic,” Mr Eades said.
“They’ve (Indigenous Australians) needed the government to wake up 10 years ago so it didn’t get this bad.”
Mr Eades claimed the rate of indigenous Australians jailed were too high.
“The mothers are incarcerated at 60 per cent and the men are incarcerated at 50 per cent of a population less than three per cent,” he said.
He said the number of Aboriginal children in jail was extremely concerning.
“Today, our children are incarcerated at the highest indigenous rate of any indigenous child in the world,” Mr Eades said.
“Right here in Perth today, WA, our children are incarcerated at a percentage of 84 per cent.”
Mr Eades said “Aboriginal women’s children have been taken all over again at large numbers” in the last 10 years.
“The majority of those girls in the prison system have had their children removed from them,” he said.
“With these sorts of things happening and with the children being removed and that, sets in a lot of hopelessness and helplessness with our first nation’s women.
“Having a part of them ripped away from them being their children, that is contributing to the incarceration rate of our women.”
He claimed indigenous people would also struggle once they were released from prison, without skills training to help them gain employment.
“This is all about the punitive approach and punishment,” Mr Eades said.
“The prison system has failed my people in a very, very big way.”
Mr Eades’ concerns came after startling figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics revealed a surge in the number of people in prison, led by an increase in the number of women behind bars.
WA’s prison population soared by 24 per cent over the past 2 ½ years, almost 10 times the increase in the State’s population.
WA women in jail increased by 43 per cent since 2015, with one in five of the nation’s 3586 female prisoners in a WA jail.
Assaults and illegal drug offences have been found as the cause of the increase of women in jail, while more females are being jailed for failure to pay fines.
The state’s imprisonment rate of 346 per 100,000 residents dwarfs the national rate of 221.
Australia’s lowest rate is in Victoria at 147.9.
The State Government said Attorney General John Quigley has been working on “a number of legislative reforms and initiatives” to address the incarceration rates of indigenous and non-indigenous West Australians.
It said the government as a whole is working hard to improve outcomes but legislation could not achieve reform on its own.
“This trend cannot be reversed by legislation alone,” Mr Quigley’s office said in a statement.
Mr Eades said government and community groups needed to work together to solve the issue.
“Industry must come on board as well as government right across the sector of industry,” he said.