The Unjust Incaceration of Aboriginal Women
A Call for the Protection of Aboriginal Women’s Rights -By Racquel Duende 19/2/16
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are suffering human rights violations in areas of being exposed to suffering violence, lack of dignity represented in the criminal justice system and discrimination towards Aboriginal women with disabilities whom which are imprisoned. Although The Australian Government has succeeded in some areas of indigenous rights. There are areas that are being neglected.
This is evident as Family and domestic violence rates rise amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women living in remote and rural areas. Overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prisons also proves this; also the correlation between mental illness disability and family/domestic violence amongst Aboriginal female prisoners from rural and remote areas.
It cannot be denied that indigenous women are the most susceptible in the world to experience discrimination in regards to their race, age ,disabilities and gender. There needs to be consideration into the incorporation of the seven core human rights treaties in Australian domestic law. The lack of entrenched rights regarding to anti discrimination in the Australian constitution. As Aboriginal people are not nationally recognized in the Australian constitution (Ywca.org.au, 2015). Some of the main current issues prevalent amongst female aboriginal and Torres Strait islander women. Include imprisonment, domestic violence, underrepresentation and discrimination.
It is reported that indigenous women are thirty times more susceptible to becoming victims of domestic violence. The 2011 Australian Productivity Commission report indicates these figures.
Since then figures have risen, As proved be the 2014 progress report of the Universal Periodic review. Currently Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are 45 times more likely to become victims of domestic violence. They are also 35 times more likely to be hospitalized due to domestic violence assaults and are 10 times more likely to die as a result of a family violence assault. These figures are compared to non Indigenous Australians (Korff, 2015).
These figures highlight the great importance for indigenous women to have adequate access to legal services that are culturally suitable and adequately funded. It should be emphasized that participation and engagement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women should be a priority in the creation and implementation of the legal services.
The 2014 progress report of the Universal Periodic Review also revealed that there was an alarming budget cut of 15 million dollars towards First peoples funding (humanrights.gov.au, 2015). This will place major limitations on the development and advancement of human rights in Australia, again presenting a difficult situation in the area of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s rights.
It is Vital that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are aware of their rights, they should know how to access their rights. This should be provided through culturally appropriate services that holistically encompass support.
Overrepresentation of Aboriginal women imprisoned
The imprisonment of Aboriginal women is also an ongoing issue that is not improving. In fact Aboriginal women are the most rapidly escalating sector of the prison populous in Australia. It is reported that over the past ten years the female prison population has had an increase of 60 percent. It can be stated that Aboriginal women consist of one third of the female prison population this is an alarming figure as Aboriginal women make up 2 percent of the Australian population (Korff, 2015).
The offences that that are committed by Aboriginal women are reported to be associated with severe poverty as a large majority of Aboriginal women imprisoned come from social economically disadvantaged lives. It is also common that many Aboriginal female prisoners are Victims of crimes such as sexual and physical abuse. Most Aboriginal women incarcerated were also unemployed prior to imprisonment as well as many without secondary education , many of which have also experienced homelessness (Kilroy, 2015).
It is a great failure of the Australian Prison system. As there is little respect found for Aboriginal culture and spirituality.
Many female Aboriginal prisoners have been victims of crime themselves; Aboriginal women find it almost impossible to rehabilitate is prisons due to the lack of cultural appropriate rehabilitation and legal access(Kilroy, 2015). Pricilla Collins, the Deputy Chair of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services. Stated that Incarcerating women will inevitably cause a stream of negative long term effects for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander families as well as communities. As the majority of women are the primary guardians of children (Hrlc.org.au, 2014).
It is evident that the current legal system isn’t working effectively. This is why there is a great need for an approach that recognizes The socio-economic influences Aboriginal women are faced with prior to falling into the criminal justice system.
Adequate funding would be extremely helpful for investing in early intervention strategies that actually target the core issues. Ms Collins states “ these statistics are a wakeup call to governments at all levels to get serious about such problems” (Hrlc.org.au, 2014).
The correlation between Family Violence and Aboriginal women incarcerated
It is apparent that family violence and the imprisonment of Aboriginal women are linked. A current study conducted in NSW found that 80 percent of Aboriginal female prisoners surveyed had reported that family violence as the primary influencing factor to their criminal offence and or offences (Right Now, 2014).
Family violence can be viewed as a key factor in the cause of female imprisonment. Although the government seeks to be tough on crime. There needs to more investment into areas of early prevention. Legal access again is desperately needed for female aboriginal victims of family violence. This will ensure the reduction of the vulnerable state many Aboriginal women are trapped in.
Aboriginal Women’s health and Correlations between family violence and imprisonment
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who live in remote and rural areas of Australia are found more likely than any other Australians, to have Acquired Brain Injury, or ABI. They are also more susceptible to mental illness and other disabilities (Kilroy, 2015).
The unfortunate exposure to severe violence starting from birth in many cases leads to harrowing high prevalence of ABI and or mental illness. The most occurring cause of ABI in Australian women is when a women is strangled, therefore oxygen is denied to the brain.(a frequent action in domestic violence) (Kilroy, 2015). ABI generally results is exigent behaviors therefore there is a direct connection between Aboriginal women living in remote areas with ABI becoming imprisoned due to these behaviours.
Other mental health issues occurring with aboriginal women in remote areas include personality disorders, psychosis and depressive illness. All of which arise to heinous crimes been carried upon these women such as molestation, rape and family violence (Kilroy, 2015) . Due to the unmet needs of these women in regards to living conditions, legal access, education and health. This is a dire combination as it predispositions Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women from remote and areas becoming criminalized at rapidly growing rates compared to women from Australian cities.
Another difficulty for these women is that when imprisoned or criminalized they are often unable to articulate themselves to express themselves on their own behalf. This is due to a lack of English skills. It reported by “SIS” human rights advocacy group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women in the criminal justice system (Kilroy, 2015).” Frequently Imprisoned Aboriginal women from remote areas are not even aware of why they have been incarcerated. Therefore they do not understand what the criminal justice system is doing with their lives, which can be extremely un dignifying.
Another alarming finding from SIS, is that prisoners with mental illness and ABI may not receive suitable medication, psychological or psychiatric help (Kilroy, 2015). This only adds to the immense amount of stress these women are experiencing. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women imprisoned with the medical conditions of ABI and other disabilities and mental illness are extremely disadvantaged in the current criminal Justice system. Special measures are needed to ensure that these women do not have their dignity and freedoms stripped of them.
Institutional Racism apparent in Criminal Justice System It can be argued that there is institutionalized racism apparent in our legal system towards Aboriginal women with disabilities.
As it is extremely difficult and in most cases services are not even present for Aboriginal women with disabilities in remote areas, to have access to services that can provide assistance in living with their disabilities. In cases where services are present, Non Indigenous staff have little and no knowledge of Aboriginal language (Kilroy, 2015). This limits communication and is not a feasible was of providing culturally appropriate services and treatment.
Thus Aboriginal women are not receiving treatment for their disabilities and mental health conditions, which again predispositions them to a greater chance of incarceration. This is unjust as women in mainstream society have adequate access to relevant mental health treatments and support.
As It needs to be recognized that the current system is not succeeding. The lack of recognition leads to further discrimination and disadvantage to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women with disabilities and mental illness in remote areas. It is dire that we recognize the issues so that they can be targeted with special measures.
Adequate funding, research, monitoring and the development of special measures should be implemented. To decrease Inequality and injustice experienced by aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. In a feasible time frame of five years, as rates are rapidly escalating.
Furthermore the Australian government should entrench human rights protections, by that a national charter or bill of human rights that should holistically provide equality to ensure that the protection of rights for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women is guaranteed.
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