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Jailing of kids 'does not work': WA Governor Malcolm McCusker

Feb 25th 2013

The Australian Newspaper Natasha Robinson From: The Australian February 25, 2013 12:00AM

WEST Australian governor Malcolm McCusker has spoken out against the state's mandatory detention laws, calling for a radical overhaul of juvenile sentencing practices that are resulting in the incarceration of hundreds of Aboriginal children.

The prominent Queen's Counsel and former WA Legal Aid Commission chairman said the jailing of juveniles -- up to 70 per cent of them Aboriginal -- was failing to deter crime and must be reassessed.

"We've had a lot of experience now with the current approach that is putting juveniles in jail for offences," Mr McCusker told The Australian.

"It's time we sat back and looked at it and said 'Well, this isn't working. We've got to try something else.' "

Mr McCusker's criticisms come after retired Supreme Court judge Michael Murray, now the parliamentary inspector of the state's Corruption and Crime Commission, last week criticised the state's mandatory sentencing laws -- which deny the opportunity for judicial discretion -- as a political reaction to crime.

Mr McCusker said that the application of mandatory sentencing laws to juveniles risked "unintended consequences" that punished vulnerable children who desperately needed intervention and community support.

Aboriginal children in the state are 40 times more likely to be incarcerated as non-Aboriginal children. "I join with everyone else in deploring the fact that there's such a high rate of Aboriginal incarceration in Western Australia's juvenile prisons," Mr McCusker said. "They are alarming statistics. It's clearly the case that the prison system is not working in terms of deterrent, and we've got allied to that, I think, the very real problem that a lot of young Aboriginals now regard committing an offence and going to prison as more or less a part of their life, a rite of passage."

The state's controversial "three-strikes" legislation applies to children and adults who commit repeated burglaries, home invasions and assaults. The Barnett government is proposing to broaden the regime which results in mandatory jail terms for children and adults who continually commit such crimes. Mr McCusker said mandatory sentencing was inappropriate for children.

"There are some real problems with it," the governor said. "I think for a start it does cut across well-established principals relating to the justice system for juveniles where you really need to give the courts discretion.

"Prevention is much cheaper than punishment. And that's where I think more funds need to be directed. Not to putting kids in jail after three strikes regardless of what the strikes amount to, but doing something to try to turn them around."

On any given night, Aboriginal children comprise about three-quarters of juveniles in custody in Western Australia.

Conditions in WA are also attracting criticism following a riot in late January at the Banksia Hill detention centre, the state's only juvenile prison.

source: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/indigenous/jailing-of-k...