The Uniting Church WA wholeheartedly welcomes the Premier’s commitment to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody, and calls for further action.
The Uniting Church WA (UCA WA) welcomes recent news that Premier Mark McGowan will make reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody a key priority of this Government. The Uniting Church Western Australia has a long history of advocacy regarding prison justice and the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody.
The UCA WA believes that Western Australia’s high incarceration rate, particularly the persistent and growing over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system necessitates an urgent overhaul of Western Australia’s policies relating to the criminal justice system. The UCA WA has advocated for improvements to the West Australian justice system, including calls for an end to mandatory sentencing, ending the practice of imprisoning people for unpaid fines, and reforms to the processing of women and vulnerable people, for more than 15 years.
Rev Steve Francis, Moderator of the Uniting Church WA said that while a welcome announcement, the Premier’s commitment needs to be paired with immediate action.
“We welcome the Premier’s commitment to reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal people in custody. All efforts should be prioritised towards reducing incarceration rates and supporting initiatives that prevent people from entering the prison system in the first place,” said Steve.
Particularly of significance to the Uniting Church WA is ending the practice of imprisoning people for unpaid fines.
“It makes no sense to lock up people because they can’t afford to pay fines – it is expensive and counterproductive. The garnishing of welfare payments is also not an appropriate solution. The rate of Newstart is already insufficient, leaving many people below the poverty line. We cannot continue to disadvantage the most vulnerable in our community. There are other options available,” said Steve.
The UCA WA supports the work of Social Reinvestment WA, which advocates for a change in Western Australia’s approach to criminal justice, to move towards a more holistic, prevention-based approach that prioritises cultural, social and emotional wellbeing for people at risk of incarceration.
The UCA WA supports Social Reinvestment WA’s calls to ensure that a successful strategy to combat Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system must be designed in true partnership with Western Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Community, leaders, and Elders.