To create a balanced picture of indigenous rates of incarceration, we need to allow for Mandatory Sentencing – the three strikes laws – passed by the Northern Territory and then later in Western Australia.
Before the Northern Territory law was repealed, there was a public outcry when Jamie Wurramurra went to prison for stealing biscuits and cordial.
That indigenous incarceration rates are highest in the states where the Aboriginal population is highest should be no surprise, nor should it be a surprise that where a three strikes law is in force, incarceration rates will naturally go through the roof.
Law and Order is not just the name of a successful TV series. It’s one sure vote-catching issue just about anywhere in the western world. As a nation, we need to decide whether we want to trust our judicial system or not, because a three strikes law says we do not.
Are indigenous people imprisoned in disproportionate numbers because they deserve it, or because they are unfairly targeted? One obstacle to answering this question is the political correctness that prevents anyone from recording or reporting crimes based on the race or ethnicity of the offender, the race or ethnicity of the victim, and the number of repeat offences by individuals in each case.
Superficially, one might assume that the number in prison matches the number of criminals, but it is impossible to penetrate the fog without more details. Keeping these details hidden away simply makes it easier for the ‘get tough’ brigade to make accusations without having to offer proof, and it makes it harder for those who are slandered to defend themselves.
One very open secret I cannot therefore prove is that Aboriginals harm each other more than they harm anyone else. That they harm each other so often is a tragedy, but it certainly doesn’t make Aboriginals a threat to whitefellas.