A SOUTH-WEST Aboriginal elder has welcomed a High Court decision which would see judges consider an Aboriginal offender’s background when it came to sentencing.
The court found that indigenous disadvantage didn’t diminish over time and should be given “full weight” in criminal sentencing.
Elder Lenny Clarke said a person’s entire background needed to be taken into account in the sentencing procedure.
“If you don’t, you’re not looking at the whole case properly,” he said.
Mr Clarke said Australia should be ashamed of the high prison rates for Aboriginal people.
“We are owned by the justice system,” he said.
“Australia never gave us an education, it never gave us jobs.
‘‘All it has given us was penal institutions.
“We belong to a society that didn’t want anything to do with us.
‘‘That’s the reason we have high rates of imprisonment.
“White Australia believes if you jail someone they will come out better. Jail is a university of crime, it’s where you learn to be bad.”
Mr Clarke sits on the Koori Court in Warrnambool and said jail needed to always be the last option.
“It will destroy our people if we keep jailing our people,” he said. “They never come back as normal people. They’re damaged.”
The High Court on Wednesday allowed the appeal of indigenous man William Bugmy, who was initially sentenced to a non-parole period of four years in jail for assaulting a prison officer.
The prosecution appealed the sentence in the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA), with Bugmy subsequently re-sentenced to a non-parole period of five years.
On Wednesday, the High Court unanimously allowed Bugmy’s appeal.
According to a statement from the High Court, Bugmy’s lawyers argued that the NSW Court of Criminal Appeal “erred in holding that the extent to which his deprived background as an Aboriginal Australian could be taken into account in sentencing diminished with time and repeat offending”.
In its judgment, the High Court found that “the effects upon an offender of profound deprivation do not diminish over time and should be given full weight when sentencing the offender”.
The order of the Court of Criminal Appeal was set aside.
- With AAP