Restorative Justice- The Shame We Keep Locked Away

Cover of the first edition of the Sydney Morni...Image via WikipediaMike Carlton, Sydney Morning Herald writes on an Australian scandal. Its about young people, in adult jails, here in Australia. We sign up to UN Human Rights, but who in power cares? Can you find somebody willing to take responsibility? Some people are being paid lots of money to run Australian Federal and State courts, police and penal systems. Will just one person stand up and take responsibility and act? 
Brian Steels
The shame we keep locked away

October 22, 2011
This just gets worse. My column last week about the scores of Indonesian teenagers imprisoned in Australian jails and detention centres turned up some appalling cases of mistreatment and abuse. They shame the government, the Parliament, the justice system and the nation.
Case one: Ardi, an orphan boy from the island of Lombok, left school in year 3. Illiterate and desperately poor, at the age of just 16 he was a ripe recruit for the people smugglers who turned up in his small coastal village in February last year. They offered him $550, more than a year's pay, to work as a deckhand on a boat ''taking some foreigners around the islands''. Like many of these simple folk, he saw the money as rezeki, an Indonesian cultural concept difficult to translate into English but which roughly means the merciful bounty of God. If it's offered you take it gratefully, without question.
Ardi's boat, full of Afghan refugees, was intercepted by an Australian customs vessel off Western Australia's Kimberley coast in March last year. He spent 10 months in immigration detention, without charge, before he was sent to the Arthur Gorrie adult jail in Queensland on criminal remand , where he was banged away with hardened thugs. Without any form of identification, he had no way to prove his age. His lawyer, Brisbane solicitor David Svoboda, made three trips to Indonesia - two at his own expense, one on legal aid - to find the necessary papers. Eventually the case was dropped and Ardi was sent home, severely traumatised after 19 months behind bars.
Case two: a 15-year-old named Mukhtar was recruited from the even more remote island of Rote, a speck in the ocean near Timor. He was paid just $400. In late 2009 he was caught off Christmas Island, held for eight months in detention and then transferred to Hakea Prison, a maximum security adult jail in Perth. There he was kept in a section for ''protected prisoners'' who, almost certainly, included killers and child molesters. After a year and 11 months, a Perth court dismissed charges of people smuggling and he was sent home last Friday week. The $4 a day he'd been paid for prison work was taken from him to defray his airfare.
Case three: it's not only the young. Amin, a man of 81, is another illiterate Indonesian peasant, this time from distant Sulawesi. In Australian terms, that's way beyond the black stump. Entirely ignorant of the smuggling racket, he, too, accepted a few hundred dollars for a boat trip south. Rezeki again.
Amin was held for almost 18 months before he was charged. A week ago, a jury in Brisbane found him guilty of people smuggling. The sentence is a mandatory five years, no ifs or buts, no mercy. He has had no contact with his wife and two adult children back home. His lawyer, also David Svoboda, says he is a small and broken man who fears he will never see his family again, that he will die in jail.
HOW on earth have we come to this? Are we now so callously indifferent to basic human decency that we believe we can treat these wretched people with such contempt?
Where are the normal safeguards of the law, which should keep children out of adult jails and ensure that they, and anyone else, are quickly brought to trial?
It appears the system is at breaking point or beyond. The federal Attorney-General's Department says there are 261 people currently charged with smuggling offences, with 25 claiming to be minors, but it doesn't know if they are Indonesian or Calathumpian. The department offers no figure for those being held without charge, but refugee advocates believe it is well over 300. As for juveniles imprisoned in adult jails: that hot potato gets flick-passed to the state prison systems.
Ross Taylor, the chairman of the Indonesia Institute, a Perth lobby group, estimates there are at least 20 boys in West Australian adult jails and another 14 at Silverwater in Sydney. There is an unknown number in Darwin and Brisbane.
Taylor is scathing. ''It's outrageous,'' he says. ''By the time many of these kids get to court, they'll have been held for two and three years. We've created a monster here, we can't deal with it, and everyone just ducks for cover.''
Yet we all go ape when a 14-year-old Australian boy is held on drugs charges in Bali. The hypocrisy is despicable.


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