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Lawyer Says Western Australia Police Locking Up Children For Minor Bail Breaches

Children as young as eleven placed in police custody while awaiting magistrate court hearings.

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The peak Indigenous legal body in Western Australia says that children as young as eleven are being locked up in high numbers because of minor breaches of bail.

Alan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

"The number of kids remanded in custody is getting higher and higher," says Ben White, managing lawyer at Broome's Aboriginal Legal Service.

"Most of these children don’t end up getting a term of immediate detention when they are actually dealt with [by the magistrate]."

White's comments come after last week's damning report by Amnesty International on Australia's Indigenous incarceration rates, which showed that Aboriginal children in Western Australia are 53 more times likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous youth.

White says a large number of children end up in remand behind bars because of unreasonable bail conditions set by police, conditions that young offender must adhere to before they appear in court.

"The issue of bail with the juveniles is a real controversial area," said Mr White.

"Virtually all, well 99% of juveniles charged in the west Kimberley if they are released to police bail are released with really strict conditions."

"These really stringent bail conditions often ignore the cultural reality."

Often Indigenous children will not stay permanently at one residence but will alternate between the different homes of their extended family.

Mr White says that young first time offenders are being targeted by police.

The police approach is diversionary: designed to demonstrate the power of the law.

"The police techniques are not diversionary. The kids are probably going to start resenting the police, the family's going to resent the police and its just counterproductive to the principals of juvenile justice."

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

Mr White told BuzzFeed News that a 13-year-old boy recently spent the night in a police cell in Broome because he breached the curfew set out on his bail condition.

The police chose to arrest him for breaking curfew, despite the child only playing metres away from his residence at a neighbours house.

"The police went around to do a curfew check and his Nanna was sitting on the verandah at the front and she said he's not here he's over there. It was a house directly across the street where kids were having a party in the front yard. Nanna could actually see her grandson playing, but because he wasn't in her house after curfew they arrested him and he spent the night in lock up, its completely unnecessary."

The Aboriginal Legal Service is concerned by WA Police's aggressive enforcement of bail conditions.

Mr White says the police's approach is creating deep distrust in the justice system.

"[The tougher law and order sentence approach over the last two years] has created a horrible separate police industry, this curfew checking."

"It's very common, we hear it all the time from our clients, there'll be curfew checks – up to half a dozen times a night the police will knock on the door wake up everyone in the house, the child will have to present to the door."

"The kids call it torching, where the police shine the light in their face to identify them. For new offenders it's not diversionary. If some police officer is shining their torch in your face repeatedly for two or three weeks before you go to court, it's not diversionary. The kids are probably gonna start resenting the police, the family's going to resent the police and it's just counter-productive to the principals of juvenile justice. "

"Australian law holds children criminally responsible from the age of just 10, which is out of line with international standards." Sali Shetty, Amnesty International.

Amnesty International

Amnesty International's The Brighter Tomorrow: Keeping Kids in the Community and out of Detention in Australia report last week revealed that rates of Indigenous youth imprisonment have continued to rise since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 revealed staggering rate of Aboriginal incarceration.

Speaking at the National Press Club in Canberra, Amnesty International secretary-general Salil Shetty said, "The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has concluded that 12 is the lowest internationally acceptable minimum age of criminal responsibility, but in all Australian jurisdictions, the age of criminal responsibility is 10."

"In other countries I have visited recently, such as The Netherlands and Mexico, children under 12 are not held criminally responsible. Yet, Australian law holds children criminally responsible from the age of just 10, which is out of line with international standards."

Western Australia was singled out by Amnesty as the worst state when it comes to locking up children up. Aboriginal children in WA are 53 more times likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous youth, which is twice the national rate.

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