Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they share their views on escalating incarceration rates and the potential for transformational change after a person exits the justice system.

 

As segregation finally came to an end half a century ago, there were a couple of decades where the road to equality began being paved.

However, a quarter of a century ago, the disproportional incarceration rates between Australia’s First Peoples and other Australians were much closer. This is no longer the case. Australia owns a humanitarian crisis as the mother of jailers, but only of its First Peoples.

Racialised jailing is extensive in Australia, and the numbers show this plainly. One in 50 non-Indigenous Australians have been to prison, yet one in six Indigenous Australians have been to prison.

Out of Australia’s 25 million, 500,000 have been to prison. Of this 500,000, over 120,000 are First Peoples—just under one quarter.

Segregation has been replaced by dungeons; juvenile and adult jails overcrowded with people from broken homes, nearly all without having completed schooling.

It is our experience that the majority of the incarcerated are our most vulnerable citizens. We believe the majority have lived through family violence, crushing poverty, and for many, have fallen into chronic substance misuse.

We support, where we can, children and youth leaving juvenile detention and prisons. For many, they come out as they went in, without gateway hope and love.

It is our experience that there is a journey to be had alongside these young people in order to transform their belief and validation of who they are and can be.

However, we must go to them, not they to us. We owe them the love and hope from here onward, the paved road.

Presently, we have a cohort of young people in training to employment. Such an expectation was previously impossible for them. Every day we turn up for them; this is the missing link.

One 18-year-old who spent most of last year in juvenile detention, with the support of others by her side, travelled each day from the southernmost tip of Perth, an hour and a half each way to and from training. Because we believed in her so strongly, she began to believe in herself.

“She was amazing and dedicated to changing her life given this opportunity,” said training provider Skills, Training and Engineering Services (STES) General Manager, Clinton Kieswetter.

“Though she had already passed all components of the training, she asked if she could do two of the modules again, so she could reinforce her learnings and best serve her employment prospects.”

Founded by former Palestinian refugee, Kamal Haddad, over the years STES has taken into training the vulnerable youth we have referred, for free.

Many came together to support this young woman, including proud Noongar man and CEO of Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation, Mervyn Eades.

Eades mentored her through a Commonwealth funded post-prison training to employment program.

“I spent eighteen years in and out juvenile detention and prison, from 13-years-of-age to 31-years-old. It’s a shit life,” Eades said.

“I lost both my parents at 10-years-of-age. I lost my 18-year-old baby brother to a suicide in an adult prison. He didn’t last long in there. His loss broke my heart. He had only been out of juvenile for weeks.”

“We all have the right to lead fulfilling lives, long denied to the majority of my Peoples.”

The collaboration included ongoing psychosocial support and daily outreach to address an arc of issues faced by this young woman. Here at the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, we helped her to build safety nets in response to these issues.

Where there is the political and spiritual will not only is there a way, but success is guaranteed.

We remember and remain inspired by this young person with battles, unimaginable to most Australians, who we would not give up on.

We fought for her, turning up in her life every day and not leaving even when cursing us away. We thank Mervyn Eades, Kamal Haddad and Clinton Kieswetter for not giving up her. It took three separate training programs to complete her qualifications and secure the promise of her employability.

Recently, Ngalla Maya set an annual national record for putting the greatest number of recently released First Nations people through training to employment.

What stands out is that they turn away no one. They accept into training those who are homeless, those who present before the criminal justice system, and those who are still vulnerable to substance misuse.

We incentivise our sisters and brothers by believing in them. We don’t tell them go to rehab first, or to come back when they have a fixed address.

It is our view that if someone puts their hand out, that we take that hand, without delay.

By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos.

 

Editor’s Note: Gerry Georgatos produced the funding submissions for Ngalla May. Throughout 2017 and part of 2018, while Ngalla Maya was effectively a start-up, he pro-bono cashflow managed Ngalla Maya until they could afford a general manager.

 

Megan Krakouer is a Mineng woman from Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project (NSPTRP) and also works as a lawyer for the National Justice Project.

Gerry Georgatos is a non-Indigenous suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. Among his academic qualifications he has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy. He is the National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.