Speech by Alison Thorne for ISJA Melbourne
Stop Failing Our Kids speakout 22 November 2017
outside the Office of Jenny Mikakos, Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs
Alison Thorne has been campaigning to stop deaths in custody for more than 30 years. She is a workplace delegate with the Community and Public Sector Union, and she represents the Freedom Socialist Party in the Campaign Against Racism and Fascism. Alison is speaking today on behalf of the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne, of which she is a founding member.
I’d like to start by revisiting why ISJA Melbourne decided to launch the Stop Failing Our Kids Campaign earlier this year.
We’ve got a state government that is on a law-and-order bender and has absolutely nothing positive to offer.
This hysterical headline on a state government news release says it all: Sweeping Reforms to Crack Down on Youth Crime!
So, what are some of the actual facts? I’ll examine just four relating to the management of Juvenile Justice.
Fact # 1: This government has transferred the management of the juvenile justice system from the Department of Human Services to the Department of Corrections, which manages prisons.
Fact # 2: This government has increased the maximum period of detention the Children’s Court can impose from 3 to 4 years.
Fact # 3: In the State Budget, this government allocated $288 million for a purpose-built supermax youth prison that will house 224 kids, both those on remand and those who have been sentenced. Let’s not forget that 80% of all kids jailed in this state are on remand and not found guilty of anything!
When making this announcement, Minister Mikakos said the new facility would “address capacity issues for years to come.” In other words, they will provide a bigger prison and then then fill it with kids to justify their misdirected spending.
Fact # 4: This government boasts that it has delivered a record boost to Victoria Police, which will see 2,729 more cops. And what will these cops do? Racially profile young people, especially First Nations kids and those from African backgrounds. Harass and move on homeless people. Facilitate fascists marching, while using capsicum spray on disciplined anti-fascist demonstrators.
Meanwhile, this same government claims to be addressing Indigenous over-representation in the youth justice system by employing one additional Aboriginal Liaison Officer.
They must be joking! Nearly 3,000 more cops, and they expect us to accept that this tatty bit of window dressing will make a difference to the sweeping systemic issues. This single Aboriginal Liaison Officer would need powers to rival Superman or Wonder Woman!
These four facts highlight that the priorities of this government are all wrong. This is the very same government that is flogging off public housing. The same one that forces schools to rely on fundraising to provides basics and runs an education system where First Nations children are disproportionately expelled or excluded. It’s the same government that has presided over a massive increase in the number of Aboriginal children in child protection. This situation is not only bad, it is getting worse! The number of Aboriginal children in child protection increased by 70% over the last 3 years, and Aboriginal kids are 13 times more likely to be removed from their parents than other Victorian children.
It is not an exaggeration to characterise the effect of this failure by the state as a new stolen generation. Many of these children will be denied access to their culture and community, which is essential to strength and pride.
These are not mysterious outcomes that no one knows how to prevent. The problems can be fixed, but to do so requires a completely different set of priorities from those being pursued by the state government.
These are the reasons ISJA launched the Stop Failing our Kids campaign. We’re working to challenge the law-and-order race to the bottom and to popularise solutions that grassroots communities know will work. We want rehabilitation not punishment, and we want it now!
We don’t need more enquiries — there’s been more than enough of these.
Last week the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory recommended the closure of Don Dale and a move away from a punitive model to one focused on the needs of young people. It’s long been known that services are vastly more effective when delivered by culturally appropriate Aboriginal community-controlled organisations. Yet, where these organisations exist, they are woefully under-resourced.
Imagine the impact the hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for the new youth jail and army of extra cops could have if the funding priorities were different. The money now going to culturally appropriate early intervention programs, managed by organisations such as VACCA, is absolutely piddling compared to the funding for cops, courts and jails. And if programs don’t get the resources they need, they are set up to fail — because the task is so huge.
ISJA has a clear vision of what we want to see. The demands in the petition we are presenting today map this out.
We don’t want kids in adult facilities. We demand an immediate end to shocking punitive practices, such as lockdowns. We oppose allowing the riot squad to operate in these facilities, wielding guns, capsicum spray and batons. Kids who are in the system need programs that focus on rehabilitation: this includes quality education, healthcare and recreation. Kids on remand should not be locked up – period! One of the key recommendations of the RCIADIC was that imprisonment should be the last resort.
ISJA’s vision of what we want is important. But just as important is how we think we are going to achieve this vision.
The police, the courts, the child protection system, juvenile justice and adult prisons are all part of the institution of the state — an institution that exists to protect the interests of the class in power.
So, we cannot rely on politicians whose role is to run a system built on the foundation of the theft of Aboriginal land to deliver what we want. We understand that we have to win our vision. To do this means convincing the majority of people that we are right.
This is what we’ve been doing with the petition campaign, and what we will continue to do so. We’re challenging the simplistic law-and-order narrative by putting all the pieces of the puzzle together. We’re committed to mobilising a mass, grassroots movement too powerful to ignore.
Get involved and help shape the next stage of Stop Failing Our Kids campaign. Let’s win a world where we boot out this racist profit-driven system that continues to fail children and young people – particularly Aboriginal children – so spectacularly.
Speech by Katia Lallo for ATJC
Stop Failing Our Kids speakout 22 November 2017
outside the Office of Jenny Mikakos, Minister for Families, Children and Youth Affairs
The Abolitionist and Transformative Justice Centre (ATJC) is a collective of lawyers, social workers, activists and community organisers who are deeply committed to prison abolition and transformative justice. The ATJC works with and for imprisoned people, their family and friends to dismantle the prison industrial complex as a system of oppression, inequality and violence.
Katia is a collective member of ATJC and has experience working alongside prisoners providing legal advocacy and support and has co-facilitated youth led training with young incarcerated people.
Imprisonment in this country is inextricably linked with the attempted genocide of Aboriginal peoples and Sovereign Nations. This countries’ inception as a settler penal colony created the birth of a prison nation; a place where First Nations people, people of colour, and the poor and working classes are subject to state control.
In order to shed this violent pattern of dispossession, segregation and punishment, we must put an end to prisons and incarceration.
On any given night in Australia approximately 900 children are sleeping in detention. Of these 900 children, approximately 55% are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Last week the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was released. The Commission found that children in prison were subject to verbal abuse, physical control and humiliation, including being denied access to basic human needs such as water, food and the use of toilets. Findings also showed that youth justice officers restrained children using dangerous levels of force; and that isolation continued to be used inappropriately and punitively causing suffering to many young people.
The report also found that young women were being held in male dominated environments that provided them less access to basic amenities than their male peers, and that young women were subjected to strip searches, inappropriate sexual behaviour and sexual violence from male officers. We must not forget that young queer and trans people in prison are also subjected to gendered violence and harm.
Two recommendations that stood out in the report was the closure of Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and High Security Unit and a paradigm shift in youth justice to increase diversion and therapeutic approaches.
The problems of prisons against young people are not just confined to the Northern Territory. After a media assault on young incarcerated people in Victoria the government pledged to build a new youth-supermax facility at Cherry Creek that will warehouse approximately 244 young people.
This prison is being built for children that are yet to finish primary school, and are yet to see the inside of a court room. Instead of supporting our young children to thrive by investing in education, housing and healthcare, Victoria is building a warehouse to hide away, institutionalise and punish the next generation of adolescents.
Jenny Mikakos has been quoted as saying that the review currently underway of the youth justice system system “is about looking at the broad spectrum of issues” but so far the government has failed to do anything except expand and strengthen punitive measures for children.
Earlier this year the Abolitionist and Transformative Justice Centre wrote a submission to the Inquiry into Youth Justice Centres in Victoria. We asked for the immediate closure of Parkville and Malmesbury Prisons and a commitment to abandoning plans to build the new prison against young people at Cherry Creek.
Out of the same Inquiry came the voices of the young people inside. One young person incarcerated at Parkville said “I personally feel like the media label us as terrifying and bad people and that people should fear for their lives. I would like people in the community to know that I made a mistake and before the crime I committed, I had no criminal record. I got sentenced to 3 years, and when I leave I am going for my learners, getting a house and I have a job. So am I really a bad person?”
Another young person from Malmesbury said “The hardest thing about being locked up, is not being able to see and be with my family, especially not seeing my daughter grow up. I reckon the best thing about being locked up is the Education program and working with role models”.
Prison should not be the place where a young person can finally feel like they are getting a good education or where they can work with people that inspire them. A young person should have all the best opportunities available to them while living in a loving home with their families and friends.
Abolishing prisons against young people is not an idea that sits outside the realm of possibility. As head of the youth justice agency in Washington, Vincent Schiraldi, wrote about the changes he saw when the state began to close down prisons against young people and introduce a range of programs to engage young people in education, work, volunteering, art and sport. The process of shutting down prisons against young people in the U.S. and introducing capacity building projects incurred a 53% decline in youth incarceration between 2001 and 2013.
Jenny Mikakos we ask you, we implore you, to abandon the plans to build Cherry Creek prison against young people and work with the community to build sustainable and empowering youth centred programs that foster young people’s intellect and creativity, and build on their capacity to lead and engage in their communities.
ATJC is here to support the Stop Failing our Kids campaign and calls for an immediate end to youth imprisonment.
We would also like to thank ISJA for their hard work and commitment to this important issue.
Stop Failing Our Kids!
On May 26 2017, the Indigenous Social Justice Association Melbourne (ISJA – Melb) launched this campaign, aimed at the Andrews State Government in Victoria.
ISJA – Melb wants to counter what it has identified as a law and order race to the bottom in the lead up the State Election in November 2018. ISJA – Melb is campaigning to put positive solutions in the spotlight with the goal of keeping children, especially Indigenous children failed by the system, out of the juvenile justice system.
Support the campaign demands.
• Stop failing Victorian children – keep young people out of adult facilities!
• An immediate end to the practice of lockdowns, isolation and other forms of punishment
• Reject the use of the anti-riot squad: guns, capsicum spray and batons have NO place in Victorian juvenile justice facilities
• Rehabilitation not punishment! Provide high quality education, recreation and health care programs within the juvenile justice system
• Reject the imprisonment of untried juveniles. Implement all 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, including that imprisonment must be the LAST resort
• Stop the ongoing cuts to housing and social welfare programs and fully fund culturally appropriate services to keep young people out of the failing child protection system.
Get involved. ISJA – Melb meets on the first Thursday of the month, 6:30 pm at the
Solidarity Salon, 580 Sydney Road, Brunswick.
Public meeting in memory of TJ Hickey
How can we stop deaths in custody and hold police to account?
In 2004, Aboriginal teenager, TJ Hickey died as a direct result of police action in Redfern. A decade later, Ms Dhu, a young Yamatji woman died from undiagnosed septicaemia because the South Hedland police thought she was “faking it.”
Both deaths provoked community outrage. Both were preventable and highlight massive systemic issues. And in both cases — and hundreds of others — those responsible have not been held to account.
Why do the police racially profile First Nations people, African youth and other people of colour? How does a young woman end up incarcerated for being unable to pay fines? Why do police facilitate neo-Nazi thugs rallying while dousing anti-fascists with capsicum spray? This public meeting will hear from voices from the front lines who will focus on solutions.
- Maki Issa: Actor with the Flemington Theatre Group, Eritrean born campaigner against racial profiling by the Victoria police and co-winner of the 2014 Young People’s Human Rights Medal.
- Viv Malo: passionate organiser for justice, opponent of deaths in custody, anti-capitalist host of The Black Block on community radio 3CR and proud Gooniyandi woman.
- Alison Thorne: Founding member of the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne, CPSU union delegate, managing editor of the Freedom Socialist Organiser and anti-fascist activist.
Bring your ideas and join in the discussion about what it will take to hold the police to account.
Thursday 23 February
Doors open 6:30 pm with snacks served for a prompt 7 pm start
Solidarity Salon, 580 Sydney Road, Brunswick
Take the Upfield train to Anstey Station or the route 19 tram to stop 25, Stewart street. Plenty of free parking at the rear – enter from Staley Street.
Organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne
Organisational endorsements welcome. To add your endorsement email firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information email@example.com or call 03 9388 0062
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