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Staggering Rates Of Aboriginal Children Being Locked Up Labelled Shameful

Aboriginal young people are 53 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Indigenous peers.

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"Detention should be the absolute last resort"

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

Amnesty International have released a report highlighting the prolific number of young Indigenous people incarcerated in Western Australia. The human rights charity is urging WA's Government to invest in community based diversionary programs to stem the rising numbers.

The Keeping Indigenous kids in community and out of detention in Western Australia report, says that Western Australia is putting young Aboriginal people behind bars more than any other state in the country.

"Western Australia consistently detains Aboriginal young people at a vastly higher rate than any other. The most recent data, from 2013–14, shows that the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in detention in Western Australia was the highest it has been in five years. Aboriginal young people are 53 times more likely to be in detention than their non-Aboriginal peers."

Despite Aboriginal young people only making up 7% of the Western Australia population, Indigenous 10-17 year olds comprise almost 80% of children in detention.

"The situation is bleaker still among the youngest children. Almost nine out of 10 children in detention aged between 10 and 13 are Aboriginal."

Julian Cleary, Indigenous Peoples' Rights campaigner at Amnesty International authored the report and told BuzzFeed News it's a terrible indictment on Australia, "The fact that kids feel at home in prison that is an indictment on how we are failing these kids as a society."

"Twelve is the absolute minimum internationally acceptable age at which kids should be held criminally responsible and yet in WA and in fact all around Australia the minimum age of criminal responsibility is 10."

"What they are doing is locking up our young people. When those young people grow up their kids will be locked up and it is just a no good cycle" – Kununurra man Aaron Griffiths.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

In a small Aboriginal community outside of Kununurra in the Kimberley Aaron Griffiths, 32, says the relationship between police and the community has become increasingly acrimonious, "They come down like they own the joint, they think they got a uniform they can do whatever they want. I've seen young people get locked up when they could have got a second chance, but none of them [police] push that and I ask why?"

Mr Griffiths says the community is desperate for help, "We are not bad people, we can be good, but there is no resources or help for young people. My biggest problem is we hae got no programs for young people and the police are not helping."

"A lot of our youths don't have nothing to live for" – Kimberley Land Council Chairman Anthony Watson.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

The Amnesty report delivers 23 recommendations to the WA government, most of them with a strong focus on immediate investment in funding for Aboriginal organisations and government departments to provide diversionary programs.

"It's clear at a systemic level things are failing, but ultimately there needs to be a lot more involvement of the Aboriginal community on the solutions and working in partnership with police so if there is discriminatory practices they are stamped out", Mr Cleary says.

Amnesty also wants controversial mandatory sentencing for young people abolished, urging the WA Government to, "commit to detention as a measure of last resort for all young people by ensuring that no future legislation will impose mandatory minimum sentences for young offenders."

The report also highlights grassroots initiatives that are now proving successful in curbing reoffending.

Since 2009 The Yiriman Project in Fitzroy Valley has taken young offenders back to traditional lands to learn traditional stories, song and cultural knowledge. Elders say young people are increasingly disconnected from society and that cultural pride can be used as a way to improve self-worth.

Kimberley Land Council Chairman Anthony Watson is one of the founding members of Yiriman, he says programs designed and run by community are vital in saving young people from a life of despair.

"A lot of our youths don't have nothing to live for, they take the easy way out and suicide and we want to give the responsibilities and opportunities, especially opportunities to know that they are wanted in the community and are valuable instead of feeling neglected. We want to show them they have a place, have a role, have a responsibility in the community."

"Smacks of racism" – Dennis Eggington, Aboriginal Legal Service Western Australia.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed News

Chief Executive Officer of the Aboriginal Legal Service Western Australia, Dennis Eggington, launched the report in Perth and hopes the WA Government heeds the report's recommendations.

Mr Eggingtion told BuzzFeed News the most pertinent issue to overcome is racism within the justice system, "I think what the report highlights is that it is not over-policing that is the problem, it's discrimination that's going on at every level of contact with the justice system that is the problem."

"It's quite obvious non-Aboriginal people are getting cautions and getting diverted out of the system at a greater rate than our mob, but of course we are over-represented in that system and of course that just smacks of racism."