Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

A room full of majority women watch a mix of Aboriginal and non-Indigenous women panellists at the Sydney Law School

On Thursday 23 May 2019, I attended at the Sydney University Law School Beyond Punishment Seminar Series: Aboriginal Women in the Criminal Justice Network. The speakers discussed data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison, and programs to support them in the state of New South Wales (NSW). ‘Aboriginal’ women in the context of the talks and the discussion below also encompasses Torres Strait Islander women.*

Before I tell you more about the talks, I’ll set the scene, looking solely at the adult prison context affecting Aboriginal women being targeted by the criminal justice system.

Over-incarceration is an issue best examined through a lens of intersectionality, a term originally exploring the limitations of dominant definitions of discrimination under industrial law (Crenshaw 1989: 150). Legal outcomes of Aboriginal women are simultaneously impacted by race, gender, class and other systemic inequalities. Lack of legal resources available to Aboriginal women to navigate the legal system is born of concurrent racial justice and gender inequalities. Economic disadvantage, poor access to therapeutic and other health services, and housing insecurity are preconditions of offending; these are class and racial justice issues. Sexual violence and poverty of Aboriginal mothers are typical of imprisoned women’s backgrounds at a rate that is much higher than male prisoners (Stathopoulos and Quadara 2014). Again, these are both racial and gendered issues, which are interconnected with colonial violence and intergenerational trauma.

I am writing on 26 May; National Sorry Day. This day commemorates the truth-telling of the Bringing Them Home report, the documentation of the Stolen Generations. Around 100,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children were forcibly taken from their families under our racist social policy. The first institution built to ‘civilise’ Aboriginal children through the use of violence was in Parramatta, New South Wales (Marlow 2016). From 1910 to 1970, across the nation, Aboriginal children were forced to forget their culture, language and spirituality. They were placed into neglect by Christian-run missions and into White foster care (AHRC 1997). Today, the state continues to forcibly remove Aboriginal children from their families at four times the rate as non-Indigenous kids (Zevallos 2017). New forced adoption laws in New South Wales mean children placed in care will be forcibly adopted (Zevallos 2019). For Aboriginal women in prison, this will almost certainly mean losing legal rights to see their children. Fracturing families through the imprisonment of mothers is another way in which colonial violence continues in the present-day.

Forced removal of Aboriginal children leads to cultural disconnection, exposure to child abuse, an increased likelihood of entering the criminal justice system, and trauma for mothers. These are gender, race and class dynamics unique to Aboriginal women, their families and communities. Continue reading Racial and Gender Justice for Aboriginal Women in Prison

Stop Forced Adoptions

Protesters gather out the front of the Parliament of New South Wales. A lage Aboriginal flag hangs over the gates. An Aboriginal man is signing translation in Auslan. There are camera crews and photographers.

Today marks the 11th anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s Apology to the Stolen Generations. From 1910 to 1970, up to one third of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children (100,000 children) were forcibly removed from their families and sent away from their communities. They were classified according to their skin colour and put into Christian missionaries where they suffered abuse and neglect, or they were placed with White foster families who did not understand their needs. These children were forced to forget their language, culture and spirituality, and in many cases they were not told of their Indigenous heritage.

The Bringing Them Home report of 1997 gathered evidence of the impact this cultural genocide had on Indigenous Australians, showing that it led to intergenerational trauma, poor health, and socio-economic issues. The report made 54 important recommendations to end the cycle of violence against Indigenous Australians.

Twenty years later, Indigenous children are being removed from their families up to four times the rate.

Join the Grandmothers Against Removals, protesting forced adoptions law in NSW. Their ethos is that: ‘The best care for kids is community.’ Below are my live-tweeted comments, beginning at the Archibald Fountain in Sydney.

Continue reading Stop Forced Adoptions

How to Increase Voluntary Participation in Programs Using Behavioural Insights

Reducing reoffending is a state priority in New South Wales. New sentencing reforms will increase referrals to behaviour change programs or other support services for people who are at high-risk of reoffending. Yet non-mandatory programs can often have low participation rates, particularly when programs are new.

We set out to better understand the social context affecting voluntary participation in programs for people at-risk of reoffending. Here’s how we used behavioural science to promote better service delivery for this vulnerable cohort.

Continue reading How to Increase Voluntary Participation in Programs Using Behavioural Insights

Applying Behavioural Insights to Emergency Decision-Making

Flood-related fatalities have been an ongoing problem in Australia since the early 1900s. Deaths during floods rank second only to heat waves in natural disaster fatalities. Approximately 159 people died from flooding in Australia during the last 15 years, with half (53%) due to driving through floodwater. NSW, together with QLD, represent 74% of flood fatalities. Rural and regional areas in NSW are especially at-risk.

Driving through flood water is a pressing issue, and has been a persistent problem behaviour that has been tough to shift.

The following reflects how the Behavioural Insights Unit (BIU) worked through this behavioural issue, and brainstormed problems, during a recent masterclass with NSW State Emergency Service (NSW SES). Continue reading Applying Behavioural Insights to Emergency Decision-Making

Dialogue of the Titans

I attended Dialogue of the Titans with Prof Megan Davis and former High Court Justice Michael Kirby. Hosted by the University of New South Wales Pro Vice Chancellor Indigenous. “A dialogue between two extraordinary human rights defenders on holding a United Nations Human Rights Mandate.” An excellent event looking at the work of the United Nations as well as the practicalities (terrible travel conditions for all volunteers, which especially restrict members from developing nations).

There was also discussion of why Australia does not have a bill of rights (terrible). Plus why it’s a problem that Australia rejected the Uluru Statement, the outcome of consultation led by, and with, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people around Australia, which recommended a voice to parliament. Most nations with Indigenous populations have a version of this mechanism that ensures Indigenous people can comment on laws before they’re passed.

More on my Twitter

Ai Weiwei in Conversation with Mami Kataoka

The Sydney Biennale kicked off on Thursday with a special event featuring Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, in conversation with the Biennale’s Artistic Director, Mami Kataoka. A Japanese artist, Kataoka is the is the first Asian region director of the program which has run for 44 years. Weiwei proved to be a fascinating, but challenging guest.

He was incredibly thoughtful in discussing the plight of refugees, which feature in his works for the BIennale, including a giant raft filled with cowering figures on show at Cockatoo Island, made from giant black rubber. Kataoka was wonderful and incredibly gracious in managing her self-effacing interviewee, who began to make jokes about how the conversation was boring and he started noting the countdown of time.

There was a lot of goodwill from the audience who laughed along with the jokes and cheered Kataoka who valiantly continued to ask about Weiwei’s film, Human Flow, also on refugees, and his other works for the Biennale. Weiwei could have come off as difficult, but instead was endearing and at times sobering.

He talked about being exhausted of talking about his art, which to him is a clumsy expression of his emotions, and specifically in this case, his inability to grasp the lack of compassion we collectively show refugees. He also noted he’s done 350 interviews and did not want to keep talking about works that are meant to be experienced in other ways. He also expressed a sense of futiilty. He noted it probably was uncooth to mention – but did regardless – that art festivals are expensive to produce but are poorly funded. He praised Kataoka for having curated a beautiful program that masks her (relatively) low budget. He also said that despite the turnout that night, the Biennale and his artshows in general, which are exhibited around the world, lack a large audience. He said that art was important, but it is rapidly losing attention.

He noted that the people who will go and see his documentary, filmed in multiple refugee sites around the world, and featuring the voices of hundreds of asylum seekers, will not reach the audience it needs to. It will be seen by people who recognise the crisis, not those who ignore it.

A contemplation of our humanity, through a reflection of our treatment of refugees. Ai Weiwei, “Law of the Journey, 2017,” part of the Biennale pf Sydney.

Justice for Elijah

14 year old Elijah Doughty was killed by a White man who only received 3 years backdated to his arrest. A jury acquitted him of manslaughter charges, despite CCTV footage and his admission that he went looking for Elijah thinking he had stolen a junk bike that the killer admits had no sentimental value. Meanwhile Elijah’s motorbikes had been confiscated by police as they believed them stolen; however this was false and the bikes were returned to Doughty family after Elijah’s death. Regardless, no person deserves to die, let alone over a dispute. He’ll likely be free in February. This is sooner than an Aboriginal person protesting Elijah’s death who was charged with property damage. Continue reading Justice for Elijah

Homelessness Protest

In the iconic Martin Place in central Sydney, people who are homeless are camped out in protest over the lack of housing for the city’s underprivileged groups. The not-for-profit initiative also provided food, clothes, books and other support to protesters. In a press release on their Facebook account, #247StreetKitchenSafeSpace, emphasised that services need to better cater to the material reality of Sydney’s homeless as well as providing appropriately priced and positioned housing options, rather than prioritising rich developers.

As long as poverty and inequality persist in our world…

Passion and Procession. The Art of the Philippines

The works on display are by contemporary artists, some of whom also work in Australia. The artists explore the interlocking influences of religiosity and social activism on modern politics and colonial forces. Continue reading Passion and Procession. The Art of the Philippines

How Poverty of Work Becomes Entrenched

A sociology study of the experiences of working class migrant workers finds that the conditions of their work make it virtually impossible to get ahead. The participants who work as labourers, gardeners, construction workers and in various service industries, say that they are forced to work long hours and multiple jobs. Due to being employed on a temporary basis, they cannot afford to take the time to up-skill or undertake additional education to lift themselves out of poverty. One of the researchers, Victoria Smith, says:

“In the interviews, workers said they needed the hours, wherever they could get them. They could come from jobs they have on a regular basis, or it could come from being asked to do one-time jobs working for a friend, like helping with a landscaping job, or helping clean a house. They constantly keep their eyes open for these one-off jobs so they can get their hours.”

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