Things we should ban, right now

spithoodAnother report of misdeeds at the Don Dale ‘youth detention centre’ in the Northern Territory, five years after a Royal Commission recommended major changes. Basically, little seems to have changed. There was another recent report of boys in WA being transferred to an adult prison for lack of space or some such reason. The treatment meted out in these places is abuse, there is no other word for it.

There is a bigger question here. Why are children being imprisoned? The law of the land says children as young as ten can be ‘detained’, incarcerated, whatever euphemism you want to use for prison.

When did this happen? I don’t recall hearing anything about changing laws to allow it.

I won’t ask why is it allowed, because there can be no good reason. Children deserve our protection and care. If they are behaving badly, or inconveniently, it is our responsibility to find out why, and to help them and their parents/carers to care better for them.

Many of these kids come from dysfunctional families and dysfunctional communities. So it’s not so easy to fix the kids. Of course not, you have to attend to the family and community that they are a symptom of.

Would that be easy? No it would not. It may take generations. But we should be putting our effort there. We should not be taking the lazy option of locking them away and pretending the problem has been addressed.

In the case of indigenous communities, we should work in partnership with the communities and their elders. They are much more likely to know where the problems are and how they need to be addressed in ways that will work in their culture. So of course we need to shift the way we deal with the disadvantages of our First People. It could be part of a coming together, of taking up the invitation of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, to walk together into the future.

But it’s not just First People who struggle. We have gross inequality in Australia, which used to be the land of the fair go, or at least that used to be our aspiration. The inequality is the product of four decades of mismanagement under the neoliberal ideology. That ideology basically pushes us to be selfish competitors. That approach generates winners and losers. It is a failure, as I have written elsewhere: an economic failure and a social disaster.

I would go so far as to say that imprisoning ten-year-olds is a crime against humanity. It is a gross failure by our society to take up its responsibility. It is a gross failure even to understand our responsibility, as adults, towards our children.

In other contexts we don’t consider kids old enough to be given adult responsibilities until they are eighteen.

Imprisoning kids younger that eighteen ought to be banned immediately. There can be no excuse for continuing it. It should never have been allowed in the first place.

There are other practices in this country, equally inexcusable: imprisoning innocent men, women and children who arrive by boat seeking shelter from conflicts in their homelands. If it’s harder to deal with them, so be it. It is morally inexcusable to punish innocent people in order to deter others.

The robodebt episode was a crude attempt to find a few struggling people who might have been overpaid. From the beginning it was known the automated approach would accuse innocent people who were already struggling. It was also known to be illegal. A Royal Commission to enquire into it has just been announced.

More generally, our society is fragmented and fractious, employment for many is highly insecure and poorly paid, and the insecurity feeds into many social ills. But those are bigger topics that will be addressed separately. They have been addressed in the predecessor blog, and at BetterNature Books, in  Desperately Seeking the Fair Go and the yet-unpublished Sunburnt.

Our society has been deeply damaged by the cult of selfish individualism. Like to boiling frog, we have become too accepting of brutal treatment on our behalf.

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