The Guardian November 28, 2001


Call for repeal of Western Australian mandatory sentencing

The Aboriginal Justice Council in Western Australian has called on the 
Gallop Labor Government to repeal the state's mandatory sentencing laws 
following damning findings in a report by the University of Western 
Australia's Crime Research Centre.

The report, Mandatory Sentencing in Western Australia, was 
commissioned by the Justice Council. It confirms the findings of the 
Government's own review of the legislation. The report found that 81 per 
cent of offenders under mandatory sentencing were Aboriginal youth and 
that, more alarmingly, 60 per cent were Aboriginal youth from country 
areas.

The Justice Council said the Government should follow the lead of the 
Northern Territory and abolish the legislation based on the facts as 
evidenced in the Crime Research Centre report, which found:

* mandatory sentencing has had no impact on burglary rates;

* the Government justifies the laws because they catch serious offenders, 
but the report provides examples where this is not the case;

* the laws operate unfairly between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth, 
especially due to the lack of proper diversionary options for Aboriginal 
youth (which is confirmed by the preponderance of rural and remote cases 
caught in the legislation);

* Aboriginal people perceive these laws as racist and discriminatory.

"We are not asking for special treatment", says the Justice Council, "but 
acknowledgement of the fact that there are Aboriginal youth as a young as 
10 years old who have been caught up in this law when they should have been 
diverted from the criminal justice system, as per the UN Convention on the 
Rights of the Child and the recommendations of the Royal Commission into 
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

"In the current climate of division in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal 
Australia and the calls for reconciliation, the Government should show bold 
leadership in extending the olive branch by repealing the legislation, 
which has not achieved its original intention of deterrence."

The Justice Council said that if the Government were serious about 
addressing over-representation of Aboriginal imprisonment all such 
discriminatory legislation should be repealed.

For information concerning the report Mandatory Sentencing in Western 
Australia contact Neil Morgan or Dr Harry Blagg, Crime Research Centre, 
University of Western Australia, phone (08) 9380 1578.

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