26 September, 2008

Yet another example of hating the poor...

In the land where being ‘number one’ is a national birthright, the USA have succeeded in coming first in the number of incarcerated persons, both by per capita and in real terms. More than 47 million Americans (or a quarter of the adult population) have criminal records on file with federal or state criminal justice agencies. An estimated 13 million Americans are either currently serving a sentence for a felony conviction or have been convicted of a felony in the past. This translates into over 6 percent of the adult population having been convicted of a felony crime.

The U.S. now locks up its citizens at a rate 5-8 times that of the industrialized nations. Explaining the massive influx of incarceration is more complex than a simple correlation with increased criminal activity. In fact, it is generally understood that the increase was not caused by changes in criminal activity and instead by a shift in policy, specifically in the area of drug crimes and habitual offenders. The results suggest that the almost tripling of the prison population during the period 1980-96 was less likely to do with crime, with criminal activity accounting for just 12% of the prison rise. Rather it is believed that changes in sentencing policy accounted for 88% of the increase

One example of policy influencing incarceration rates is the ‘Three Strikes’ laws which calls for a long-term sentencing of repeat offenders. One extreme example is a decision by the U.S. Supreme Court where it upheld the California statute in a case in which a man convicted of stealing $153 worth of videotapes from a department store received a sentence of 50 years to life at a cost of 1 million dollars!

Perhaps the most alarming evidence to emerge from prison population data is the unequal distribution of race. African American males are being incarcerated at an unacceptable rate with one of every eight black males in the age group 25-29 currently in some form of lock up. Data from the Department of Justice reveals that a black male born in 1997 has a 29% chance of spending time in state or federal prison in his lifetime. The ethnic composition of the inmate population of the United States has been virtually inverted in the last half century, going from about 70% (Anglo) white at the mid-century point to less that 30% today

Another significant influence on incarceration levels has been the ‘war on drugs’. Between 1985 and 1995, drug incarcerations were responsible for 75% of the growth in the federal prison population and 33% of the state prison population growth.

The attitude of ‘lock em up and throw away the key’ is an extreme position and is negatively impacting a specific segment of the population; a segment already debilitated by poverty and injustice. So why do we stand for it? It’s all in the name of feeling ‘safe’. Surely there are better ways of bringing safety to our streets? Or do we believe 30% of African Americans are rotten through, incapable of contributing to a healthy society? Do we believe that drug addicts are beyond rehabilitation and must not be released until they are 70 years old?

I know this is Australia and I am referring to America (though you will remember our stats for incarcerated Indigenous are not too dissimilar), but lets consider our position now so we don’t walk into the same trap ten years from now!

Where do you stand? What shall be done to prevent mass incarceration???

Think it over and have a great weekend!


PS…where are all the bloggers? I am challenging you all to a blog duel!!!

19 September, 2008

The pathetic poor

“Men at ease have contempt for misfortune as the fate of those whose feet are slipping” Job 12:5

I am currently reviewing a century of Australian Social Policy and have noticed somewhat of a trend that runs consistently throughout the decades. It’s a trend of punishment and austerity. It seems in our history there has always been an ethic of making the poor pay for their ineptitude, a payment that would be paid in humility since they clearly had no cash. And those that chose to dispense relief were (and to an extent still are) not seen as particularly helpful as they were ‘discountenancing neither mendacity nor vagrancy’, nor was their help encouraging industrious habits or a proper spirit of independence among the recipients.’ (Dickey).

Let’s think about that for a minute. Would The Salvation Army win a government contract if it merely dispensed relief and care? Or does it need to be engaged in some form of reformation? Why, of course we would be expected to engage in reformation! We want to free people from their poverty not just keep them alive a little longer. The problem is, I’m not sure we are producing transformation. It may be our intention, but I am not sure of our success rate. I am not cutting up the Army, I’m cutting up the wider system and moral code of the population.

You see we are dealing with structured poverty ad inequality. I can teach a child to read, I can teach them to be polite, I can teach them to desire wealth and independence, I can teach them how to look for work. But unless someone with power employs them, they will stay poor. Unless they are able to accrue enough capital to secure a loan, they will be unable to buy property. Without employment and land, you are unlikely to make it or be seen to make it out of the unfortunate position of a pauper.

We are also dealing with a public that shows contempt for the misfortune of others and, just like the friends of Job, are convinced that hardship is the fault of the sufferer. Sometimes it is, but often it is not. Why else would we so readily accept initiatives like parent fines for student truancy, breaching for Centrelink non-compliance, or even ‘work for the dole’, which at times could be very helpful for building skills but which left most assuming that regardless of tangible assistance, it just made good moral sense to make them earn their crust. Of course other money we get from the government…tax rebates, baby bonuses, aged care pensions, family benefits, Medicare rebates…well that’s free crust, and they are all justified! No, no – it’s only those who produce nothing for society that must be taught a lesson. Agree? Most do. The thing is, there are many that don’t work and take money and resources from the government, and we don’t have any problem with them at all. Mothers are a perfect example. It is totally justified, and indeed encouraged for a mother to stay home and raise her children…unless she’s a single mother, in which case she MUST work! But I am suggesting that a whole lot of public money goes into stay at home mums that we would never question.

What is our obsession with hating the poor? We can’t deny it. History will show that every public service to the poor…including hospitals…was a momentous battle against the mindset that poor people just don’t deserve free help.

Take some time out to examine your position. Do you help the poor because you feel sorry for them? That’s a little condescending. Do you help the poor out of moral duty? That mostly leads to contempt. Or do you recognize that we have created a system that runs more smoothly when only the flexible and capable are involved. Those with issues only slow things down and reduce profit so we exclude them for our own good, all the while chastising them for their lack of involvement. Oh, it has got to stop!


18 September, 2008

Media Release from SA

8 September 2008

The Salvation Army Opposes Proposed Abortion Legislation
The Salvation Army, as part of the overall Christian Church in Australia, strongly opposes the Abortion Law Reform Bill 2008 legislation which was tabled in the Victorian Parliament on 19 August and is due to be debated from 9 September, 2008.

While recognising the serious ethical and moral concerns that this issue prompts within those on both sides of the debate, The Salvation Army believes that, by far, the greater good is served within the community by protecting the rights of the unborn child.

In particular, we are very concerned that, under the proposed legislation, abortions will be able to be performed up to 24 weeks gestation without any reference to expert medical or psychological advice or counsel.

The Salvation Army believes in the sanctity of all human life from the moment of fertilisation. It considers each person to be of infinite value, and each life a gift from God to be cherished, nurtured and preserved.

We support efforts to protect and promote the welfare of the weak and defenceless person, including the unborn. We take seriously the rights and needs of both the foetus and the mother.

It is The Salvation Army’s experience that, where unwanted pregnancies occur, in most instances it is best to counsel acceptance of the situation by all involved, for the foetus to be carried to term, and for all possible supportive help to be given. It is not appropriate to argue that no child should be “born unwanted”, as some are proposing in the current debate.

We also recognise that in claiming a right to participate in the abortion debate, this claim must be supported by continuing to address, in practical ways, the personal and social impact of unwanted pregnancies, unwanted children and a fractured society. As such, we need to provide compassionate, informed and professional care and provision to those women and their families who choose to continue with a pregnancy (even if unwanted). Appropriate pastoral and practical support must be available.

Further, for those women who have had an abortion, either recently or in the more distant past, and now need care and counsel to deal with loss, grief, anger, guilt and regret, we need to provide every available assistance and support.

The Salvation Army continues to accept its responsibility to address those social issues such as family breakdown, poverty and sexual ignorance or irresponsibility that contribute to the high incidence of unwanted pregnancies in Australia.

Serve Suffering Humanity Conference

Bundaberg Corps (QLD) is holding their first social justice conference this weekend.

Take a look




Miniature Earth

This short video is a good reminder of how fortunate many of us are and how unfair things are for so many others. It helps us to put things in perspective and to keeping working towards a global society based on justice. so take a look.(You may need to copy and paste the address into your browser)



15 September, 2008

lessons from Romero...

After a long struggle for social justice in Columbia, while performing a funeral mass in the Chapel of Divine Providence Hospital, Archbishop Oscar Romero was shot to death by a paid assassin.

Only moments before his death, he had reminded the mourners of the parable of wheat. His prophetic words:
“Those who surrender to the service of the poor through love of Christ
will live like the grain of wheat that dies…The harvest comes because of
the grain that dies…We know that every effort to improve society, above
all when society is so full of injustice and sin, is an effort that God
blesses, that God wants, that God demands of us.”

During his two years as Bishop of Santiago de Maria Romero crisscrossed
his diocese on horseback, talking with laboring families to learn how he could
best serve them. The reality of their lives horrified the bishop. Every day he
discovered children dying because their parents could not pay for simple
penicillin; people who were paid less than half of the legal minimum wage; people
who had been savagely beaten for “insolence” after they asked for long overdue
pay. Romero began using the resources of the diocese—and his own personal
resources—to help the poor, but he knew that simple charity was not enough. He
wrote in his diary:
“The world of the poor teaches us that liberation will arrive only when the
poor are not simply on the receiving end of handouts from government or
from churches, but when they themselves are the masters and
protagonists of their own struggle for liberation.”

09 September, 2008

Education Revolution

An article in the Australian caught my attention today. Below are a few excerpts but click here for the full article.

"AUSTRALIA'S government spending on public education is the second lowest among developed nations, a new report has found. Russia, Slovakia, Mexico and Iceland all spend more money on public education institutions than Australia. Only Belgium spends less.

The report also shows experienced teachers in Australia are paid significantly less than the OECD average, but teach longer hours and more weeks than most OECD nations, Mr Gavrielatos said. In 2005, just 0.1 per cent of GDP was spent on pre-primary institutions, compared to the OECD average of 0.4 per cent, ranking Australia equal 24th out of 26 countries. Tertiary education expenditure was only 1.1 per cent of GDP, also less than the OECD average.

But Ms Gillard pointed out there was some good news, such as that eighty per cent of 25 to 34-year-old Australians have attained at least upper secondary level education, above the OECD average."

In working with the youth at my corps, I am confronted with the reality that if our kids are not receiving a quality education, their chances of breaking out of the poverty cycle are limited. An underfunded education system puts our young people at a disadvantage to reach their potentials.

As Gen discussed recently, the issue of truancy has been hot in the media lately with suggestions of suspending welfare payments in the event of repeated truancy. I think instead of cutting funding for families and placing already stretched NGO's under more strain to provide for these families, it might be worth flipping the coin and examining the other side: what are the causes of truancy and how can we develop a culture where kids want to come to school? There are so many good movies such as 'Coach Carter' and 'Freedom Writers' where passionate teachers brought out the best in their students, developing and teaching them a love of learning. The above article shows how underfunded our education system is and shows the lack of financial and material support that our teachers have, perhaps one reason that 'burn out' of teachers is so common in Australia (see here for more info) In the face of an education system that still sees only 73% of students finish high school (and more alarmingly only 32% of Indigenous students) what can we do about it?

At my corps on a Friday night, we run 'God and Pizza', a bible study based small group program where we read God's word and... eat pizza! Some of our kids who struggle with literacy get an opportunity to practice their reading skills, are encouraged, can make mistakes knowing that it is a safe place for them to do so, and are reading about a God who loves them. Just one example but we have found it effective. The challenge: be creative! To steal the government's catchcry, start an education revolution: that is, start something that restores the power of having an education back to it's rightful owner - our kids! Even better if while learning to read, they can learn about God.

Have a blessed week.
Sarah Brinkley.

Pro-life Anti-Abortion Video: Development of the Unborn Baby

Consider this video and write to your MP if you live in Victoria, Australia - don't miss out on being a voice for persons who are not yet born!
posted by Danielle

08 September, 2008

posted by Danielle


Look for opportunities to connect with teams using the MISSION IMMERSION EXPERIENCE to introduce you to our partner territories... details soon arriving on justsalvos.com

05 September, 2008

Our Australian shame...

In 1991, a Royal Commission was established to investigate the high number of aboriginal deaths in custody. It was expected that police brutality and dilapidated prison conditions would be the finding and that these situations would be corrected. After a detailed investigation, no such finding emerged, and instead a more frightening and devastating reality dawned on the Australian public.

The Royal Commission found that of the ninety-nine Aboriginals who had died in custody;
- the median age was just twenty-nine years
- eighty-three were unemployed at the date of last detention
- they were uneducated, only two had completed secondary level
- forty-three of them experienced childhood separation from their natural families through intervention by the State authorities, mission or other institutions
- forty-three had been charged with an offence at or before aged fifteen and seventy-four at or before aged nineteen
- forty-three had been taken into last custody directly for reasons related to alcohol
- the standard of health varied from poor to very bad (the average age of those who died from natural causes was a little over thirty years)
- their economic position was disastrous and their social position at the margin of society
- they misused alcohol to a grave extent (of the twenty-two deaths by hanging in police cells, nineteen at death had a blood alcohol level of 0. 174 per cent or over, mostly much over)
(Information taken from the Royal Commission report: http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/special/rsjproject/rsjlibrary/rciadic/rciadic_summary/rcsumk01.html)

It depicts a dire situation of injustice and despair. Suicide became a viable option, and that is a rebuke to us.

That was 1991. They situation has not improved.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons comprise 2.4% of the Australian population, but makes up 22% of the Australian prisoner population. This is a rate of 1,561 per 100,000 of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult population imprisoned at any time, compared with the overall Australian incarceration rate of 163 per 100,000 adult population.. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are twelve times more likely to be incarcerated than a non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander citizen. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, December 2005. Prisoners in Australia, Census June 2005.)

This is unacceptable. Who are we as a nation to talk about human rights? Or...said in a way that has more authority...how dare we look at the speck in our neighbours eye when there is a giant plank in our own. Let's find a way to take the plank out!!! Investigate the solutions, raise money for a project, create awareness, do something! I don't want to write this blog in another 17 years!!!

Think and pray it over,


04 September, 2008

Urgent request for prayer - India Northern Territory

The Salvation Army
International Headquarters
Office of The General

Dear Colleagues in Christ,

Urgent request for prayer - India Northern Territory

I am asking on an urgent basis for prayer for our Salvationist comrades in the India Northern Territory. Salvationists in the State of Orissa have been directly impacted by recent civil disorder and are in need of our loving thoughts and earnest prayers.

Following the deaths of local Hindu leaders, some fundamentalist Hindu citizens have been offering violence to their Christian neighbours, including Salvationists. Two corps halls have been destroyed together with a quarters building, and 100 Salvationists are now hiding in fear in the nearby forests. Please pray that God will protect them.

Also our Boys' Home has been destroyed. Thirty children and the officers caring for them are now in police protection. Please bring this situation to God in prayer. Efforts are being made to relocate the children to another of our homes.

Please pray for Colonels Kashinath and Kusum Lahase, territorial leaders, and all their staff, and especially for the divisional leaders in Orissa.

God grant a swift return to normality and a restoration of tranquility in these communities.

To date there are no reports of Salvationists injured or killed.

Thank you for your fidelity in prayer. God bless you all.

Yours in Christ,

Shaw Clifton

03 September, 2008


Dear Comrade,

RE: "I'll Fight Day" - Social Justice Conference.

The Salvation Army in Western Australia is hosting a Social Justice Conference on the 13th September 2008.

It will be held at The Salvation Army, Rivervale Corps (cnr. Norwood and Francisco Streets, Rivervale) from 9.30am to 4.30pm (with Registration from 9am).

The conference will have two main focus areas, Poverty and Human Trafficking.

The day will consist of guest speakers (including - among others - a group from TEAR Australia), video presentations, workshops, etc. and will engage your heart and mind around what you can do to help Fight these injustices.

There will be a special guest appearance of the Spirit of the Streets Choir. The choir was initially formed in late 2006 by the BIG ISSUE newspaper sellers of Perth. It finds its newer members among other marjinalised people, outside the reach of the mainstream community; the homeless, those with a mental illness, the disabled and those affected by drugs or alcohol.

There will be a crèche facility provided upon request (this must be pre-arranged - call Kathleen Pearce on 0417 972 936).

Lunch, and refreshments during the day are included in the low cost of the event.

$15 and $10 for Student/Concession.

By sharing with us your valuable reflections regarding the day, you will be given an opportunity to win a door prize! There will also be many resources available for your information and for purchase.

Please seriously consider spending the day with us.

Sincerely yours,

Jen Noonan & Robert Maley
Divisional Social Justice Representatives