One of the common reasons for incarceration of Aboriginal children is failure to appear at court and breach of bail conditions (often a residence condition). One way to overcome this is to establish “bail hostels” like those in the U.K. Too often ignorance of the need to comply, losing court papers, illiteracy, and homelessness militate against compliance with the requirement to appear at Court on the appointed day. This often leads to an arrest warrant being issued, arrest, incarceration, and often refusal of renewed bail. This is both costly and administratively time consuming, when the infraction that led to it would rarely lead to a prison penalty. Research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics (BOCSAR) shows that this is so for persons before the courts generally.
The advantage of the bail hostel is that, while it requires overnight attendance, it allows the person to stay in touch with the system, providing a secure place of residence, and assistance with “remembering” court appearance dates.
As with my earlier submission regarding “Circle Incarceration”, having these institutions manned and managed by the Aboriginal Community for its community would be less threatening, and would lead to better compliance with Court orders, such as bail conditions (e.g., residence, curfew, AVO compliance). It would also have the advantage of Aboriginal ownership of part of the criminal justice system, removing the “Them and Us” feeling that now exists in aboriginal communities.
Lastly, it should be noted that the cost of any formal incarceration is large, over $110,000 a year and thus about $300 + a night, so that any cheaper effective solution should be considered, and this is certainly one.
Jim Coombs, Acting/Retired Magistrate, barrister for 17 years, magistrate for 12 years.
See earlier article: JIM COOMBS. “Circle” Incarceration.