Student lawyers have their say on ‘national tragedy’ of Indigenous incarceration

March 28, 2018

Murdoch law students (from left to right) Caitlin Joensson, Dayna Lazarides, tutor Anna Notley and Anna Lee

Legal minds: Murdoch law students were enthusiastic about tackling a 'real life' problem for their assignment. Pictured from left to right are Caitlin Joensson, Dayna Lazarides, tutor Anna Notley and Anna Lee.

Five Murdoch University students could help reform Australian law after having their submissions accepted into an Australian Government inquiry into Indigenous incarceration rates.

Law students from the third year Social and Welfare Law unit researched the issue, and suggested legal measures that could reduce the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders (ATSI) in prisons.

Demi Thackrah, Dayna Lazarides, Anna Lee, Caitlin Joensson and Jazelle Francis made submissions that were accepted.

According to national statistics published in 2016, ATSI prisoners make up 27 per cent of the national prison population, but make up only three per cent of the overall population.

The successful submissions were accepted by the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), which is considering changes to laws to help address the problem, described by former Attorney General George Brandis as a ‘national tragedy’.

Their final report will be tabled in Parliament and released publicly later in 2018.

Law lecturer Anna Notley, who teaches the Murdoch unit, said she encouraged all her students to make submissions.

“Murdoch’s law school is dedicated to producing graduates with social consciences who want to make a difference, so making submissions to this enquiry was a valuable exercise for the students,” she said.

“The professional skill required to write such a submission is highly valued by employers. It is also quite an achievement to have submissions accepted alongside those of judges, social justice lawyers and top policy makers, as our students were for this inquiry.

“The students were enthusiastic about tackling a ‘real life’ problem for this assignment. They gained significant knowledge in areas of cutting edge law, which will be of interest to policy makers and employers.”

Ms Lee said that having her submission accepted made her feel like she had a voice.

“The opportunity to explore this area has opened my eyes to the true disadvantages faced by the Indigenous people, in committing an offence as trivial as fine defaulting,” she said.

“It makes me more hopeful that State and territory governments could abolish provisions in fine enforcement statuses that provide for imprisonment in lieu of unpaid fines.”

Ms Lazarides said writing the submission helped her to understand how legislation is not always beneficial to everyone in the community.

“Working within the area of law reform really appealed to me and now I am completing my practical legal training at the Environmental Defender’s Office of Western Australia, where I am assisting in law reform projects daily,” she said.

Ms Joensson added that she was pleased to be able to contribute publicly to an issue she is passionate about advocating change for.

“I was fortunate enough to do some work with the Murdoch Law School/SCALES clinic researching Aboriginal Deaths in Custody prior to making the submission,” she said.

“During this time I was able to meet with and interview an Indigenous community member who explained to me the adverse effect that imprisonment for fine only offences has had on her family.

“We discussed different options for change and this interview really affected the way I now approach this issue.”

The students’ submissions are publicly available and can be read under their names on the Australian Law Reform Commission website here.

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