Pubdate: Thu, 09 Sep 1999
Source: Canberra Times (Australia)
Author: Geoff Page


YOUR editorial on the 77 per cent increase in Australian jail suicides since
1980 (CT, August 31) makes many cogent points. I'm surprised, therefore,
that you did not spend time considering who is actually in our jails and why.

One notable group which, on a percentage basis, is vastly over-represented
in custody, is Australia's indigenous people. Though Aborigines must have
their fair share of criminals (like any other group) it is hard to see any
reason why, short of prejudice in our law-enforcement and justice systems,
they are at least 17 times more likely to be taken into custody than the
rest of us.

The second group making up a large percentage of the prison population are
those incarcerated for drug-related offences many, if not most, of which
need not have occurred if the drugs in question had not been declared
illegal in the first place (as was heroin in 1953).

No doubt top-level dealers would soon find some other profitable illegal
enterprise if currently illicit drugs were either legalised or made
available on prescription. There is not much we can do about that.

Most of the lower-level dealers, however, who have been imprisoned for
crimes committed to support their own habit, would, if these drugs were
legally available, no longer need to find themselves in our already
overcrowded prisons.

What makes all this even more depressing is that an increasing percentage of
these citizens are being given, inadvertently one hopes, a death sentence
and this in a nation where the last hanging occurred in 1967.

Most of us like to imagine that it is only barbarous countries such as China
and the US that still employ capital punishment. Now we have to admit that
even a short period in our jails could amount to essentially the same thing
and that almost half of these deaths occur among those who are on remand,
ie, have yet to be convicted or sentenced.

I suspect it may take more than editorials like yours or letters like mine
to change the situation.

Geoff Page, Narrabundah

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