19 July, 2008

Sweeping under the carpet

I spent this week at university at an intensive. Basically you can get one whole subject competed in a week instead of a semester. There were very few options so I chose a subject called 'The New Punitiveness?' I had no idea what it would be about, but I really wanted to get the credit points so I thought, why not...how bad can it be? Well, it turns out it was the greatest week! I was shocked and appalled at some of the things I learnt about incarceration rates and their direct connection with low socio-economic status and race. The subject took me well beyond my knowledge of the justice system (previously gained from many episodes of 'The Bill' and 'Law and Order') and open my eyes to a world of injustice and sadness and down right persecution and neglect.

Did you know that one in nine African Americans between the ages of 20 and 34 years are currently incarcerated? Did you know that the figures are approximately the same for Indigenous Australians? Now a simple minded correlation can be made to explain this statistic. You could say, 'The reason for this high rate of is due to at least 1 in 9 African Americans/Indigenous Australians committing crimes which leads to their incarceration.' Well done, this is true. I am not suggesting that certain race groups are being placed in prison and are innocent of their crime. I am suggesting that we have a problem within society at large, and particularly our social welfare system, that could enable one race to fall into lifestyles that lead directly to crime. The bulk of the convictions are related to drug possession and the crimes related to drug use including crimes such as theft, or crimes that result from heavy intoxication.

Surely if we see a trend as prominent as the statistic above it is the obligation of society through government to work to rectify this injustice. I call it injustice because, while yes, crimes are being committed I believe that many are restricted in their capacity to make better choices, and are therefore being set up to fail in life. I also say injustice as the statistics show that crime rates have consistently gone down while incarceration rates have gone up! How? More of those convicted are now sent to prison rather that receiving various other options of rehabilitation and they're sent to jail for longer periods of time. In some states of the US, your third conviction of possession of Crack Cocaine will supply you with a LIFETIME sentence! Powdered cocaine on the other hand... the drug of the rich and famous??? Hmmm...

Our indigenous population have health/education/poverty/abuse/neglect statistics so high that I would guess that if they collectively got on a boat and sought asylum in another nation, that nation would be compelled to take them! And yet our response to their plight is to lock them up and not take ownership of the problem! Our solution is to blame 'them'! Statistics as high as 1 in 9 come awfully close to...well...lets just say segregation and suppression of a particular race group within a country. We must act! And I don't think throwing people in jail is the answer! Why? Because unfortunately we like to see prisons as houses of punishment and not of rehabilitation and as such, the individual is largely not helped by the experience of prison. We need to find ways to prevent the incarceration of minorities and the poor. We need to find ways to prevent them from needing to break the law. We need to start rectifying the injustice within society. We need to stop making simple conclusions of guilt and punishment. We need to find ways to lobby for the protection of high risk groups. We need to find better rehab alternatives for those who are both convicted and incarcerated. We have a lot of work to do!
I am going to leave it there for the week and discuss this issue at much greater length next week. I think I am too fired up with all this new information to make any logical analysis at this point. But I would love for you to think it over and start making solutions of your own.

Have a great week!


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