What if the answer to reducing the rate of Indigenous incarceration was so small and so simple that it seems almost too good to be true?
That’s the thought I had when I met WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin as he told me what he thought would have a significant impact in helping to ensure that indigenous peoples don’t not end up in an invasive cycle with the WA justice system.
So simple yet so important in that it would likely reduce the number of aboriginal people who end up being arrested by the police, detained by our courts and locked up in our jails resulting in the highest levels of aboriginal incarceration than anywhere else in the country.
Ensuring fair access to driver’s licenses is a delicate balance between being able to obtain licenses without sacrificing the need to accumulate learning hours and undergoing rigorous testing.
The complexity of this task is amplified the farther you get from the city, as a combination of distance, prohibitive cost, and culturally appropriate services and testing procedures means driver’s licenses are nearly impossible to obtain in communities. remote or regional.
Add to these existing barriers the fact that Indigenous people living in these communities must travel outside of their place of residence to access vital necessities like health care and do not have access to a train, bus or Uber. .
It is almost inevitable that many get into a car and drive without a license and in doing so commit a criminal act.
Once arrested by the police and subsequently convicted by the courts, an often ongoing interaction with the justice system begins.
Among Aboriginal men sentenced to prison, 70% will re-offend within two years of their release.
The offenses escalate and spending time in prison becomes a normal way of life, even a rite of passage.
Obviously, the best way to stop this crisis of imprisonment is at the very beginning.
Along with legislative changes introduced by the WA government which remove prison sentences as a means of reducing traffic fines, Transport Minister Rita Saffioti recently announced a program to tackle these problems at the root.
Called the Driving Access and Equity Program, the $10 million program increases learners’ access to licensed vehicles, doubles driving instructors in the Midwest, Pilbara and Kimberley, tackles barriers where English doesn’t. is not the first language and co-designs programs with local Aboriginal people. organizations to increase the possibility of obtaining a license locally.
Several organizations have already received money specifically to help their local communities obtain their driving licenses, with five of the six groups in the Kimberley being indigenous. This is a big step in the right direction.
The ad didn’t get much attention, but it deserves it.
This helps solve a problem long recognized by the former Chief Justice, academics and those who understand the magnitude of this situation.
What Mrs. Saffioti has announced will undoubtedly help solve such a big problem, with such a small solution (wallet size in fact) and will leave a legacy for generations to come.
Similar to the recent $350 million announcement made by Housing Minister John Carey, this initiative reflects a minister and a government that has decided to treat Aboriginal people not as a lost cause, but with hope, a dignity and respect so deeply deserved and long overdue.
- Zak Kirkup is of Yamatji descent and is the former leader of the Liberal Party of Western Australia