Licensing huge factor in Indigenous incarceration rates

By Dayne Syron

 

It goes without saying that living in a rural area doesn’t exactly offer you the same level of access to services that living in the city does. More importantly, these services are usually an essential part of everyday life.

Imagine not being able to get to the supermarket, or even the hospital. Imagine not being able to get to work.

Having been out to a few rural areas myself, I couldn’t imagine how difficult it would be to live without a license. It would be really difficult to get from place to place, especially when these distances are over several kilometers.

In an article I read by NITV’s Tara Callinan, I was astounded to find that “of the 14 people convicted of drink driving in Moree – half were put behind bars – while all 124 people convicted of the same offence in Northern Sydney escaped jail time”.

Callinan also stated in her article that the main reason for the high imprisonment rate of people from Moree, NSW was because they didn’t have a license.

So it’s no surprise that Aboriginal people in rural areas are getting caught driving without a license. What’s even worse is that this is leading to high numbers of Indigenous people behind bars.

Evidence shows that, generally speaking, these drivers were not able to obtain a drivers license because they simply could not get their I.D., or they did not have the sufficient funds available to apply for their L’s. On top of that, they found it hard to get someone to teach them.

Unfortunately, this problem is not only confined to the town of Moree – this is a similar story throughout the rest of NSW.

It was reported that 1,000 Indigenous peoples are currently serving time for offences relating to unlicensed driving. This is such a problematic situation, and one that I assume would have already been considered by the courts in sentencing.

Personally, I do not see the justice in sentencing someone to jail because of the disadvantaged position they are in. If anything, it is counter productive in doing so – and it’s not rectifying the situation at all.

This is an even bigger problem when we look at the fact that Indigenous Australians are already overrepresented in the gaol system. If we want to prevent this problem from continuing, something needs to be done about it.

For there to be real equality, measures need to be put in place in order to address this issue. Otherwise, Indigenous people living in these communities, like Moree, will continue to be disadvantaged. Programs need to be created in order to enable Indigenous people living in rural areas to obtain their license and further prevent them from committing traffic offences, especially when they lead to a term of imprisonment.

Not only would it help in addressing the overrepresentation of Indigenous peoples, but it would also improve their quality of life.

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