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Criminology And Criminal Justice

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Criminology And Criminal Justice

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The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, commonly known as the Indigenous People have become the disproportionate victims and offenders related to homicide incidents, both in terms of their relative population and also in comparison to their non-Indigenous counterparts. The reason for this should not be hard to find for the Australian policy makers, but it seems they played ignorant to the needs of this centuries old society of the continent and hence involuntarily contributed to the growth of offenders among the Indigenous community, as per Bryant (ed.), (2012). 
The current position among the Indigenous youth is that a brush with the legal forces and even getting imprisoned is ‘normal’. But socially and humanitarianly, it would be quite insulting to classify the 21st century Indigenous Australians as criminal and incarcerated. There are many glorious examples of the Indigenous Australians who have flourished in the society, in terms of self-respect and also by keeping out of any kind of criminal activities. If they can ‘make the grade’, without losing their Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders identity, why can’t others. The issue is not only about law and order, it involves a culture which is centuries old and needs to be accommodated into the new stream. It is about a response from the community as well as the authorities, says Short, (2016).
The Assimilation Policy (c. 1940-75) was creating intervention in the family life of the Indigenous people and causing disrespect to their heritage. In fact, it was not in favour of reforming the Indigenous people and make them capable of adopting the mainstream Australian culture. This policy was also not in favour of repealing those laws which, under the guise of ‘protection’, were limiting the freedom rights of the Indigenous Australians. Such laws were depriving the Indigenous people of their welfare entitlements and were restricting their free association with the non-Indigenous people, especially in towns and cities, explains Short, (2016). 
Thus, in the long run, these four decades had the lasting effects of instilling this program of legal reforms and institutional changes which created the undercurrents of a deepening problem among the Indigenous people leading them towards criminal activities. Even the recently expressed criminological views by social scientists in their writings point towards the fact that these liberalising elements of assimilation contributed to the criminalisation of the Indigenous culture. Studies conducted on a section of Indigenous and non-Indigenous residents of New South Wales, who were born in 1984, assert Nalla & Newman (ed.), (2013), have revealed that a large proportion (75.6%) of the Indigenous population as compared to only 16.9% of the non-Indigenous people in this section of the city were warned by police during the so-called “Youth Justice Conference” for various offence. Although it was found that nearly 25% of the Indigenous people had no such previous record. Such politically motivated culture drives instil in the Indigenous minorities a sense that their small numbers and powerlessness, is the main reason for this treatment, as per Nalla & Newman (ed.), (2013). 
This, in Australia, has forced the Aborigines as well as other minority immigrant groups to adopt marginalised ways which are more advantageous to follow rather than get involved in the class or party politics. It is, in fact, only a small proportion of the Aboriginal population which is responsible for generating a relatively high rate of Indigenous criminalisation. For the authorities, as well as the cultural harbingers of the society, it is then a more important reason not to overlook such a significant phenomenon among the Aboriginal people who do not get involved in adverse activities with the legal system, as suggested by Alexander, (2013). 
Investigations by the Royal Commission of 1991 revealed 99 cases of Aboriginal deaths in police custody between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989. The major findings of the commission included the death in 1981 of rugby player Eddie Murray during custody at the Wee Waa police station. Noteworthy was the fact that Police Commissioner Elliott Johnston regretted the lack of disciplinary charges against five officers found to be involved in the violent death in 1983 of John Pat, a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy, at Roebourne in Western Australia, says Alexander, (2013). In its final report, the Commission was of the opinion that all these 99 deaths were not because of violence by the police, quote – “… the immediate causes of the deaths do not include foul play, in the sense of unlawful, deliberate killing of Aboriginal prisoners by police and prison officers. More than one-third of the deaths (37) were from disease; 30 were self-inflicted hangings; 23 were caused by other forms of external trauma, especially head injuries; and 9 were immediately associated with dangerous alcohol and other drug use. Indeed, heavy alcohol use was involved in some way in deaths in each of these categories. The chapter concludes that glaring deficiencies existed in the standard of care afforded to many of the deceased.” Unquote. 
Among the noteworthy findings of the Commission were the findings that the average annual rate of death for an Indigenous person in police custody had decreased from 4.4 deaths per 100,000 people between 1980 and 1989, to 3.8 deaths per 100,000 people between 1990 and 1999, as per Carl et al, (2011). It was noted that during these periods, deaths of Indigenous people in police operations had decreased from 21% to 18% when comparison was made to all deaths that occurred during custody. While comparing these figures with homicides involving the non-Indigenous people, it was reported that only 22% were influenced by alcohol in both the victims as well as offenders, says Bryant (ed.), (2012). Use of alcohol was significant among the Indigenous people, reported at 69% among Indigenous victims and at 72% among Indigenous offenders, as compared to just 27% among the non-Indigenous victims and only 31% among non-Indigenous offenders. Another statistical data obtained from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (refer to AIHW 2011a and b) also confirms that although both communities consume alcohol, the Indigenous Australians’ consumption reaches harmful levels, excerpts Carl et al, (2011). 
Indigenous communities started the involvement of elders in the judicial system who participated in sentencing process of the urban Indigenous offenders. This practice started in 1999 in South Australia after several years of consultation among the community groups. Effect of this has been found since then in the new judicial practices which are being established in other jurisdictions, as per Bryant (ed.), (2012). Although the process is taking time, establishment of courts in the urban centres is picking up. These courts are setting aside one to three days in a month exclusively to cases involving Indigenous offenders, assert Lewis & Lewis, (2014). The practice of involving the Indigenous communities in remote areas is also gathering momentum as judicial officers undertake travel on the circuit. Remote area courts include the Nunga and Aboriginal Courts in South Australia, the Koori Courts in Victoria, the Murri and Rockhampton Courts in Queensland and Circle Sentencing in New South Wales. Those involving the community elders are those in the sentencing circles in remote parts of Western Australia and New South Wales, including the Justice Groups in Queensland, according to Lewis & Lewis, (2014). 
The ultimate aim of the majority of 339 recommendations proposed by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) focussed on reducing incarceration among the Indigenous people and increasing their participation in the judicial system either as court staff or as advisors. This has also resulted in the emergence of Justice Agreements among many states of Australia which are recognising partnerships between the state government and the various Aboriginal organisations for building a better system of justice and social equality for the Indigenous people, says Short, (2016). 
In the courts now being established, equality is shown by the judges/magistrates who although retaining the ultimate power of sentencing an Indigenous offender, sit at eye level to the Indigenous offender, across a bar table rather than across the bench. Services of a respected elder Indigenous person are taken, although his role varies as per jurisdiction area, according to Nalla & Newman (ed.), (2013). This participation of an elder starts from addressing the offender about their social behaviour and goes on to playing an important role in finalising the sentence and subsequently monitoring the offender’s progress throughout the judicial process. 
A young Indigenous boy, appearing in a court and being made to narrate his first offence is surely a fearful and embarrassing experience for many first time offenders. Here, presence of an elder or a respected person from own community in the court proves to be effective as it creates a constructive and positive atmosphere when the elder Indigenous person speaks and supports the offender, assert Nalla & Newman (ed.), (2013). This morale booster is something which was always lacking in the judiciary, But now, a new breed of judges and magistrates in the criminal courts are adopting a far more activist attitude towards imparting criminal justice. They are being supported by the administrative branches of the governments and the court authorities. Such supportive innovations among the judicial officers is helping the emerging courts in Victoria and Queensland since 2002 in adopting the Nunga Court Model to suit the local conditions, as per Lewis & Lewis, (2014). 
The ABS Census of 2102 showed that these Indigenous people who comprised of just 3% of the Australian population in 2011–12, were contributing 13% of the homicide victims and 11 percent to homicide offenders. This rate of victimisation as well as offending among the Indigenous people was about five times higher as compared to the non-Indigenous people, asserts Alexander, (2013). These comments were based on the understanding that for some Indigenous people in Australia, it is normal to remain at odds with the criminal law and who are unlikely to be arrested, convicted and imprisoned. Authorities however are consenting to the problem that excessive Indigenous incarceration is a disturbing product of Australian white’s colonial history, explains Carl et al, (2011). The author of this paper however adopted the approach in a different way by pondering on the question – “In what ways, the socio-economic and cultural differences among the Indigenous people in Australia are relevant in understanding their high rates of incarceration”. 
Such a high rate of Indigenous incarceration poses a problem not only for makers of public policy but also for analysing them from historical and social purposes. Social scientists are of the opinion that this Indigenous incarceration is basically because of the whites treating the Indigenous people as outsiders and this has resulted from their long role of dominance and colonization, according to Carl et al, (2011). The percentage figures justify the fact that Indigenous people were involved as offenders in 16% of reported homicide incidents. Another disturbing fact is that 70% of these reported homicides involved either an Indigenous offender or an Indigenous victim. Comparing them with the statistics made available by ABS-2011-12, of the 72% cases of homicide incidents among the non-Indigenous people, either as an offender or as a victim, 93% involved either a non-Indigenous offender or a non-Indigenous victim, says Short, (2016). 
It has also been found in studies that the assimilation policy forced many of such excluded Aborigines to the cities and towns where they could find jobs, were not able to adopt the urban lifestyle and because of their unorthodox cultural ways, soon felt marginalised and, in some respects, criminalised. Indigenous incarceration? Social scientists have often pondered over this term and reasons behind its use. Studies have suggested that for some of the Aboriginal communities, being in prison is considered a normal happening in their lives and is not a phase to be ashamed of in one’s life-course. Many studies have also revealed this is because of several differences and similarities in the perspective of the Indigenous people and the white people, namely –

How the whites position themselves in the society and to the values about debate about punishment given to Indigenous people.
The historical understanding about the protection to be provided to the Indigenous people including the impact of assimilation.
Difference of opinion of the Indigenous people as to whether the law and order in Australia is biased against Indigenous Australians.
Whether Indigenous people should be considered as a ‘community of fate’. 

On these factors, opinion of Kath Walker, Secretary of the Queensland State Council for Advancement of Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders, which she expressed in December 1964, makes it clear why more and more of the Indigenous people are feeling assimilated and it is because of the reason that some flourish while some fail, explains Bryant (ed.), (2012). Walker’s 1964 remarks were made during a conference on ‘Aborigines in the economy’ held at the Centre for Research into Aboriginal Affairs of Monash University. Walker reassured the conference, and is quoted, “There are some who will never ever make the grade, but the average are not any different from any other society or any other race. You all have your rejects. We are no different. We too are quite well aware of the fact that some of our people will not make the grade and we are not as naïve as to think that all of us can be rescued. Some of us will be left behind, as you yourselves have left some of your own people behind”. Unquote.
List of References                
Alexander, M. 2013, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colour blindness. The New Press, New York. 
Bryant, C.D. (ed.) 2012, Routledge Handbook of Deviant Behaviour. Taylor & Francis, Oxon.
Carl, J., Baker, S., Robards, B., Scorr, J., Hillman, W. and Lawrence, G. 2011, Think Sociology. Pearson Higher Education AU, Frenchs Forest, NSW. 
Lewis, B. and Lewis, J. 2014, Health Communication: A Media and Cultural Studies Approach. Palgrave Macmillan, London. 
Nalla, M.K. and Newman, G.R. (ed.) 2013, Community Policing in Indigenous Communities. CRC Press, Boca Raton, FL. 
Short, D. 2016, Reconciliation and Colonial Power: Indigenous Rights in Australia. Routledge, Oxon.

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