there was a simple answer to the problems besetting many remote
Aboriginal communities there would not be a problem. Thus the stern
words of Acting Prime Minister Peter Costello in the House of
Representatives this week should not be seen as a solution.
called for tougher law enforcement and, in particular, he wants no
“cultural defence” for rape or child abuse offenders. There had been,
he said, a tendency to “go a bit soft on some of these things because
there is a cultural sensitivity.”
the Australian National University John Taylor has examined the
available data on the people of Wadeye in the Northern Territory. He
has tried to quantify current social and economic conditions for the
purpose of establishing a baseline against which the impacts of
policies designed to improve them might be subsequently measured. After
looking at the material on the criminal justice system Mr Taylor
reached the following conclusion:
Wadeye has the highest per capita juvenile offending rate
in the Northern Territory with young people from Wadeye constituting a
significant proportion of all those in detention.
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discusses this phenomenon by examining data sources on reported
offences, correctional services, custodial sentences and juvenile
The main thrust of research into underlying causes
of recidivist criminal behaviour among Aboriginal youth in remote
communities emphasises the futility of custody in circumstances where
the normal progression from school to paid work is the exception rather
than the rule.
So there we have it. Mr Costello wants
to put more people in jail for longer and those policies will achieve
precisely nothing. Providing the solution was not the role of Mr
Taylor’s baseline study but he did point to other research showing “if
an individual’s most defining experience of growing up is primarily
about custody (and one might add gang allegiance in the case of
Wadeye), then it would seem unlikely that such an experience would
equip young males for lives outside of criminal subcultures.”
research he quoted called for a reconsideration of expenditure involved
in incarceration in favour of facilitating less destructive modes of
growing up. To this extent, continued poor school attendance and
failure to engage youth economically “to satisfy the need for more than
just boredom and marginalisation”, represent clear opportunity costs to
both government and the regional community.