Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in suicide prevention and regularly engage with the justice system. Here they share their views on racial bias and the shortcomings of the criminal justice system.
Racial bias continues in the criminal justice system despite more acknowledgment than ever before of its existence. There is endless chatter around how to reduce it, but we are forever trapped in claptrap symbolism.
Racial bias is not exclusive to any particular bastion; it infiltrates every institution, every workplace. It is sad that only in the twilight of public figures’ careers or after their retirement—particularly of parliamentarians, magistrates and judges—they rebrand themselves as social justice warriors.
In that twilight or retirement, these public figures have little chance of change agency after missing the opportunity to do so while in high office, in the halls of power.
Racial bias can be institutionalised and reflected in legislation, by either a discriminatory presence or by an omission of protections. Racial bias has led to draconian mandatory sentencing, a disregard of intergenerational reprehensions and has culminated in the record high rates of racialised imprisonment of First Peoples.
This is a problem the world over.
In the United Kingdom, more than 40 percent of under 18s in custody are from minority backgrounds. In the United States, it’s more than 50 percent. In Australia, it is around 60 percent. Australia jails its Blak youth at nearly 30 times the rate of its white youth.
It is not cultural deficits that have led to the horrific levels of jailed Blak youth—it is harrowing, crushing poverty that have reduced people to the littlest of what they should be.
There is relative and there is abject poverty. The majority of Australia’s abject poverty are First Peoples who have been reduced to powerless intergenerationally. Half of Australia’s First Peoples live below the poverty line. One-fifth live in abject poverty.
The poorer someone is, the more vulnerable they are. Intergenerationally, the trauma is cumulative and transmissible. Governments remain absolutely and utterly at fault and all blame rests with them. Apologies and symbolisms are acknowledgements and validation, but they are not change.
Symbols have their place—flags, dates, voices—but without the actual inequalities addressed, symbols alone betray once again those sisters and brothers left to rot.
The criminal justice system knows that the majority of Blak youth who offend, no matter how hideous their crimes, are from situations of abject poverty, of families so broken that their young are left unsupported.
The majority of youth who offend are also out-of-home care children and therefore child protection authorities have failed them too. A significant proportion of the offending youth have spent most of their young lives in the care of the State. The Bugmy Laws in New South Wales allow for some understanding of one’s life to be shared with the Court, but this is not so in Western Australia.
The criminal justice system should break its silences and insist to governments, who are the legislators, that leaving these children misunderstood and unsupported is discrimination.
There is very little genuine diversion which improves the lives of our lost youth and their troubled families. In general, all chatter has led to, at best, arrest and release and for small scale offending, bail and non-custodial sentences.
There is no core focus on psychosocial support, so many vulnerable children continue train wreck lives. As soon as they become adults, many end up in adult prisons. One in 12 Aboriginal adult males is currently in prison in WA—the world’s highest jailing rate.
Where are the roads to different futures?
We need the Courts to demand the State carry out widescale reformation of the criminal justice system and of its legislative bedrock, underwritten by a State Government devoted to changing lives.
Racial bias and discriminations cannot be achieved by former judges and parliamentarians who whisper what should be, when in their own day while at the helm they did nothing. Many symbols and tokens of change have come and gone but generation after generation, because of quiet Australians, people lead lives of poverty, with the promise of the same for their children.
Our parliamentarians and judges cannot justify themselves by saying they worked to the best of their ability within a prescribed system when that system was unfair, racist, classist, and for many, a death sentence.
If the system and any of its laws are unjust, we must say so.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery (NSPTRP) and also works as a human rights legal practitioner for the National Justice Project.
Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.