A greater respect for Aboriginal law and culture is the key to tackling the extraordinary levels of imprisonment and victimisation suffered by Aboriginal people according to a new book launched at The University of Western Australia tonight.
Author Dr Harry Blagg's book Crime, Aboriginality and the Decolonisation of Justice, was jointly launched by Professor Richard Harding, Inspector of Custodial Services and founding director of UWA's Crime Research Centre, current Director Professor Neil Morgan, and Dennis Eggington, Chief Executive Officer of Aboriginal Legal Service of WA.
Dr Blagg, Director of Studies at UWA's Crime Research Centre, has worked on projects monitoring the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, as well as the impacts of policing on indigenous and other marginal youth, indigenous self-policing initiatives, the impact of family violence on indigenous communities and violence prevention programs for indigenous communities.
He travelled to remote and regional areas as well as metropolitan, from the far east Kimberley, Broome, Port Hedland, down to Albany as well as parts of the Northern Territory and Queensland.
"I've been fortunate to have been able to sit down and talk to traditional male and female elders and lawmen in the course of writing the book. The stories that tend to come out focus on the need for the whitefella legal system to respect Aboriginal law. There's been a lot of talk in recent years about Aboriginal law being the problem. We don't look at it like that; we see Aboriginal law as the solution to a lot of the problems," he said.
"In remote places Aboriginal law is still strong and it's even practised in some urban areas through family obligations. What we think would work is a hybrid system involving Aboriginal courts where magistrates sit down with Aboriginal elders."
Dr Blagg said it was clear that Aboriginal people wanted local Aboriginal groups to have the resourcing and support to deal with juvenile crime and family violence, night patrols, safe houses and healing centres. There was also a need for more programs in prison that included Aboriginal law and culture.
"Short-term issues seem to be funding community patrols and putting resources into programs such as women's community groups, because women are often closely involved in running programs. With issues such as the alcohol ban in parts of the Kimberley - we need the State Government to be putting more resources into these programs," he said.