Justice system “sucking us up like waste”, says Dodson

Photo: AAP.

Pat Dodson has described Australia’s Indigenous incarceration rate as an utter disgrace, saying the criminal justice system continued to “suck us up like a vacuum cleaner and deposit us like waste in custodial institutions.”

In a sobering and powerful address to the National Press Club, the incoming Labor senator from WA painted another grim picture of indigenous incarceration, urging Australians not to “bury our heads” and ignore the issue.

He lamented the appalling jail rate among Black Australia, saying despite a small improvement in the number of suicides in custody, the overall numbers were “a complete and utter disgrace”.

He also said the “paperless arrest” of fine defaulters, many of them from remote parts of WA and the Northern Territory, was exacerbating the problem and that governments needed to stop treating Aboriginal people like “passive clients.”

It has been 25 years since Professor Dodson handed down his royal commission report into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, yet the rate of indigenous people in jail over that period has more than doubled.

“A quarter of a century after we handed down our findings the vicious cycle remains the same,” he said.

The man known as the Father of Reconciliation added: “I would hope that we are better than that. We must be better than that.”

Professor Dodson, a Yawuru man from Broome, will replace Labor senator Joe Bullock, a strong Catholic who resigned over his party’s position on gay marriage. He is expected to take up his position as a senator from WA soon, depending on how Coalition threats of the double dissolution election play out.

He said it was the responsibility of the parliament, and not the courts, to tackle a problem that was devastating Indigenous Australia.

“The politicians are the ones who are accountable in this instance because if they make bad laws or laws that enable these high levels of incarceration then there has to be political remedies to that,” he told journalists.

“As Australians we cannot tolerate any further these appalling statistics that we see in front of us. What is clear to me, though, is that this discussion must be framed by a philosophy of empowerment of self-determination.

“If we are to be authors of our own destinies, then government must stop treating us as passive clients, or as targets of policy of mainstreaming. It is imperative that the policy context change.

“Those changes are necessary so indigenous people are viewed as part of the solution, not just as problems to be resolved.”

He said he wished the Senate, which is being recalled to vote on the Coalition’s Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) Bill, was instead being recalled to deal with this issue.

“Indigenous people are more likely to come to the attention of the police; indigenous people who come to the attention of the police are more likely to be arrested and charged; indigenous people who are charged are more likely to go to court; indigenous people who appear in court are more likely to go to jail,” he said.

“If indigenous people are being taken into custody at an increasing rate, then it stands to reason that our chances of dying in custody also increases.

“The statistics speak for themselves and the cold hard fact remains an indictment on all of us.”

Tony Barrass

1 Comment on Justice system “sucking us up like waste”, says Dodson

  1. Indigenous people themselves hold the key to reducing indigenous incarceration rate by changing their attitude towards illegal behaviours and cease breaking laws.

    Maybe, Pat, instead of yelling at parliament, you ought yell at indigenous community members to pull up their socks in raising responsible law abiding youth. And for the stubborn youth who won’t listen, accept they like other Australian law breakers face their consequences.

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