WA's top cop wants to lock up kids - most of them Aboriginal kids

Gerry Georgatos
WA's top cop, police commissioner Karl O'Callaghan said the courts need to lock up repeat juvenile offenders sooner rather than later. He claims this will reduce home invasions while scoring the children an earlier shot at rehabilitation.

He has previously said that more than half (63%) of these offenders are Aboriginal youth. WA has the highest incarceration of Aboriginal youth in the country, both in terms of total numbers and in proportion to population.

State shadow attorney-general John Quigley disputes the need for more legislation and enforced mandatory sentencing. He said the courts should be entitled to a certain discretion. "If the commissioner thinks the courts have it wrong, the appropriate thing to do is to appeal the decisions."

However, state attorney-general Christian Porter has given his support to the commissioner. "While detention is considered a sentence of last resort for juvenile offenders, there are some circumstances where the safety of the community should take priority."

"One area where there is greater scope for the use of imprisonment is cases where serial juvenile burglars are convicted of numerous home invasions because these types of offences have a such a terrible impact on the victims," said Mr Porter.

Aboriginal Legal Services WA chief executive officer Dennis Eggington said commissioner O'Kallaghan pushes himself as an academic and intellectual however his commentary is often skewed to a harsh right wing conservatism. Commissioner O'Callaghan has a PhD in police planning and has often said as part of his PhD research he studied the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody reports 1991.

"We need to empower our communities and Elders to help our youth, and not to disempower communities," said Mr Eggington.

His brother, Robert Eggington, chief executive officer of Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation and who works with troubled youth and in healing families of the Stolen Generation and the impacts of inter-generational poverty said, "We do not need more of children and adults in prisions. It tears at the family fabric. Our men in jails means families breakdown and children commit suicide. We need to keep on healing from the hurt imposed on us. Mandatory sentencing is something that has to go, it achieves only more damage."

Human Rights Alliance Indigenous spokesperson, Natalie Flower said, "The answer lies in addressing inter-generational poverty, and lifting people out of dank despair of the acute poverty and hurts. Mr O'Callaghan is very wrong if he thinks punishing people for their poverty deters crime, where is his research? He is looking at figures and not studies. All studies point to punishment as causal to enshrining criminality, broken lives and in increasing crime, tearing communities apart, generating inter-generational behaviours. He can hand back his PhD back if what he is saying these days is all he knows."

Commissioner O'Callaghan wrote in an April 23 The West Australian opinion piece, "Back in 1996, the government introduced the so-called three-strikes legislation which, in effect, directs that when a person commits a burglary in circumstances of aggravation a third time must be sentenced to at least 12 months imprisonment. The law extends to juveniles."

"As I write I am looking at the record of a 15-year-old who has 13 aggravated burglary convictions. In each case he has been sentenced to an intensive youth supervision order. It is not until much later in his offending that the court imposes a conditional release order. In WA, the Children's Court regards a CRO as a period of detention even though no detention is actually served!" The commissioner asks why the three strikes legislation is not being applied.

The commissioner wrote that "there are many good non-detention programs for juvenile offenders but surely the continuing commission of serious offences means it is time to send them into constructive detention programs."

Ms Flower said if the commissioner acknowledges good non-detention programs then the answer is simple, fund more of them.

The commissioner wrote, "Countless juvenile records suggest the longer we take to do this, the more hardened and less malleable they become. It is then very difficult, or even too late, to rehabilitate them."

"I would have thought that the three-strikes legislation is there to provide some measure of community protection," he wrote.

WA continues with Australia's worst incarceration rates of juveniles, worst incarceration rates of Aboriginal youth and Aboriginal adult males in Australia. 70% of WA's juvenile detention population are Aboriginal youth and 40% of the state's 13 adult prisons comprise of Aboriginal males. 2.8% only of the state population is Aboriginal.