Action to end brutal mandatory sentencing laws
There have been protest actions against mandatory sentencing in Sydney, Canberra, Hobart, Perth, Alice Springs and Darwin during the past week demanding the immediate repeal of mandatory sentencing laws. The actions, which grew in response to the death on February 9 of a 15-year-old boy died in custody in the Northern Territory, are set to continue. His death was preventable but for the Northern Territory mandatory sentencing laws which punish petty property offences. The boy's crime was stealing less than $50 worth of texta colours and paints. He had been sentenced to 28 days in jail and sent 800 kilometres away from his home on Groote Eylandt. He hanged himself only four days before his sentence was complete. Later in the week a young man was sentenced to a year in jail after stealing biscuits and cordial — cost $23. Two other young people who were with him will also serve time. These three young people will spend a year away from their community. There is the cost in monetary terms (an estimated $120,000 to keep the three in jail) and there is the cost in terms of the alienation and damage done to those three young people. "Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people recognise the need for law enforcement", said Rod Towney, Chairman of the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. "Our communities are affected by crime just as every other Australian [community]. "But mandatory sentencing and laws like these are completely against the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody to use jail as a last resort. "In a very real way, the impact of mandatory sentencing is Stolen Generations all over again — the authorities are still taking away and locking up our kids. "Must we drag practices of the last century into this one? Is this what we want for future Australia?", asks Mr Towney. Stolen children Prime Minister Howard has refused to say "sorry" to the Stolen Generations of Aboriginal people claiming that the present Government is not responsible for what had happened in the past. But the system of breaking up Aboriginal families and removing children and young people from their families and communities continues today — and mandatory sentencing in the Northern Territory, and the "three strikes and you're in" legislation in Western Australia are the most brutal examples of that. In the Northern Territory, "First offenders must be sentenced to a minimum term of imprisonment, no matter how good their character might be, no matter how trivial the offence, and irrespective of all mitigating circumstances", explained Brett Collins of the Justice Action organisation in NSW. There is no evidence that mandatory sentencing works as a deterrent. Mandatory sentencing shifts discretion from the judiciary to the police to decide who is sent home with a warning or talk to the parents and who goes to jail. As a result working class and, in particular, indigenous Australians are disproportionately punished with jail sentences. The Northern Territory and West Australian Governments have announced they will not repeal the laws. Federal Greens Senator Bob Brown introduced a private Members' Bill last year with the support of ALP, Democrats for the Commonwealth Government to override the mandatory sentencing laws for juveniles in the NT and WA. A Senate Committee has held public hearings in Darwin, Alice Springs and Perth. Final public hearings were on February 17 in Canberra. The Senate Committee is due to report on March 9. Meanwhile, add your voice and demand justice and the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws. You can do this by writing, faxing or emailing the daily press and your local papers, Prime Minister John Howard in Canberra, your Federal MP and Senators as well as the WA and NT Governments.