While mass incarceration is a dominant social issue involving men, it is also increasingly affecting women of colour. Black women are three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women, and Hispanic women are approximately 70 percent more likely in the US. And that is growing with the number of women behind bars increasing at about double the rate of men since 1985.
- Katerina Bryant (lipmag)
‘[Prison] relieves us of the responsibility of seriously engaging with the problems of our society, especially those produced by racism and, increasingly, global capitalism.’ – Angela Davis
In Western Australia last year, 22-year-old Julieka Dhu, who was jailed for an unpaid $1000 parking fine, died. Dhu complained to police about severe pain, vomiting and partial paralysis and was taken to hospital twice. She was declared well enough to return to prison, but was not seen by a doctor.
Malcolm Dick Wilson was in the cell beside Dhu and told The Australian, ‘She was paining [groaning in pain]. She was singing out. She was crying. Police was just ignoring her. I couldn’t do anything to help her, I felt so bad.’
Western Australia’s Aboriginal Legal Aid Service’s Chief Executive Officer, Dennis Eggington, has said on her death and the overall issue of Aboriginal deaths in police custody: ‘You only have to look at the situation of Ms Dhu to see that locking people up for unpaid fines is an unmitigated disaster. A better approach would be to increase the options for community service orders so that there is a practical way to keep people out of prison. The last thing the Government should be doing is exacerbating the spiralling cycle of disadvantage by locking up more and more Aboriginal people.’
Julieka Dhu’s unwarranted death prompted protests across the country. As of February 2015, her family still don’t know how she died. The Western Australian Government has committed to a coronial inquest, yet Julieka’s family has been given no indication of when this will occur.
Australia, while nowhere near the extreme rate of incarceration in the US, still has a major racial bias towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.
The Productivity Commission’s Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage2014 Report found that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youths are locked up at 24 times the rate of non-Indigenous youths and ATSI adults are locked up at 13 times the rate of non-Indigenous adults.
These numbers are growing and are increasingly affecting women. The incarceration rate for Indigenous women has increased by 74% since the year 2000 (and 39% for Indigenous men). Law Council of Australia President, Mr Duncan McConnel has said that, ‘This is a national crisis, requiring a national response and leadership from the Federal Government.’
– Rest: lipmag (posted via feedly/ ifttt)
Katerina Bryant is a writer, editor and law student based in Adelaide. She has what Gillian Anderson calls “feminist bones.”
(Excerpt etc. first posted on. Orig. attribution above.)