Sign of a sick system

By Jon Lamb

There is perhaps no better reflection of the health of a society than the way it treats those who have no or limited access to power or control over decisions that affect their daily lives. This is especially so for the rights of indigenous people, women, migrants and young people. If you’re a young person of Indigenous or Middle-Eastern background in Australia today, the moment you set foot on the street institutionalised racism is there to keep you in your place. Harassed by the police and stereotyped as trouble-makers in the corporate media by right-wing shock-jocks, young people from Indigenous and non-European migrant communities have felt the full brunt of law-and-order hype pushed by state and territory governments around the country.

The “get-tough-on-crime” brigade grand-stand about tougher laws and the legislators at local, state and federal levels try to out do each other on who will have the toughest laws. The results are frightening. Each year more and more teenagers and young adults are incarcerated — often for crimes directly related to poverty and alienation. The remand centres and juvenile prison are overflowing and overcrowded with young people, subject to physical and psychological abuse from prison guards. Each year more and more people from indigenous communities are locked-up, despite repeated and numerous studies that the excessive use of detention is literally destroying these communities.

Not one of the recommendations of the 1993 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has been implemented to the letter or in any consistent way. Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people and the rate of incarceration has been steadily increasing over the last seven years. This is a sign of a morally corrupt and sick society. It reflects the callousness inherent in the capitalist business-profits-before-human-welfare system we live under.

Eugene Debs, the early 20th century US labour militant and socialist leader, who was imprisoned several times for his political views, once said: “Years ago, I recognised my kinship with all living beings and made up my mind that I was not one bit better than the meanest on Earth. I said then, and I say now, that while there is a lower class I am in it, while there is a criminal element I am of it and while there is a soul in prison, I am not free’’.

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