Chace Hill: 'Shut down prisons and redirect money into rehabilitation that works'

July 29, 2016
Thousands of people marching through the Sydney CBD on 30 July chanting ‘too many cops, not enough justice.

Chace Hill is a young Koori man who lives in Perth. He recently completed an honours degree in criminology at Murdoch University looking at racism. He is also a Resistance Young Socialist Alliance member.

He spoke to Green Left Weekly's Zebedee Parkes about racism in the justice system and the recent Four Corners program about the abuse of Aboriginal children in the Don Dale detention centre in Darwin.

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Tell us about your honours thesis.

My honours thesis looked at racism in The West Australian newspaper — specifically, representations of Aboriginal people from 1966 to 2015. I looked at The West Australian first to see if there were any racist ideologies and if they transitioned from this idea of old school racism to new school racism.

Old school racism is the obvious segregation of Aboriginal people. New school racism is the transition to the idea that it is not because Aboriginal people are Black, but because they are lazy or they don't want to get an education or because they don't want to do anything.

What is your reaction to seeing the images on Four Corners?

In all honesty it's something I've known for years. I guess my initial reaction was: Okay, this is a thing, but why are people caring now, when it's always being a thing, it's always happened.

I think it was quite tactful of Four Cornersto release that [footage] at the time the Black Lives Matter movement was going on around Australia and I think it will create solidarity between Aboriginal Australians and African American people and their movements.

The fact is that Australia-wide there are funding cuts for Aboriginal people and for juveniles or any kind of young person going to prison. Funding has been cut for rehabilitation and put into law and order policing, which is disgusting.

We know it doesn't work — there's a ridiculous amount of evidence to back up the fact that law and order policing doesn't work. Rehabilitation isn't the best thing, but it works better than law and order.

Can you talk about alternatives, such as justice re-investment, to law and order policing?

I briefly sat on the justice reinvestment campaign for WA. I love the idea of justice reinvestment. I love the idea of shutting down prisons and redirecting money into rehabilitation that works.

My understanding of justice reinvestment is this: in Texas, instead of building a new prison they re-directed that funding into building safer communities and stronger ties between communities. Basically they mapped out all the services and took an in-depth look at which services worked and which didn't work. The money that was taken from the prisons was redirected into those services that were working quite well.

I think taking that time and having that shared egalitarian approach is a lot better than this idea of just law and order politics, which has never worked.

What do you make of the royal commission?

Aboriginal academic and activist Celeste Liddle said: “We need to have a royal commission into the number of royal commissions whose recommendations have being ignored by successive governments.” I think that says it all.

No one implements the recommendations of royal commissions, so it's a waste of money. If something were to come out of it that would make me very happy, but in the past we haven't seen much change.

Prime Minister MalcolmTurnbull has come out and said: “Yeah, yeah, were going to do this and that”. He's got this front that it's a really serious issue that he's really concerned about. Yet there are issues still going on about deaths in custody that are still happening and recommendations that still haven't been taken on from that. I think it's a bit hypocritical that he's making a big fuss about it but then nothing happens.

What effect does being stuck in the criminal justice system have on young Aboriginal people?

I have never been through the criminal justice system, but if you speak to young people —and I have spoken to not just Aboriginal people but young people as a whole — they say it's stigmatising. If you do get thrown into prison you are left with that label that you're a young offender.

You internalise this idea that society thinks of you only as an offender. And you not only start internalising it, you start to hang around with people who share similar attributes. I think this is reflective of what happens in the criminal justice system.

I think labelling young people as offenders or young people as prisoners is really quite alarming.

There is racist legislation, such as mandatory sentencing, which wasn't adopted as a racist legislation but does target Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I mean, there are kids as young as 12 being locked up for their third count of stealing chocolate. I think that in itself says there must be something wrong.

What do you think needs to happen for change to occur?

Protesting definitely gets people out there and gets issues known.

There needs to be much more acknowledgment of the real history of Australia. What happens is, I think the term is whitewashing of Australian history.

When I talk to non-Indigenous people about Australia's history, the response is “Do you want me to feel bad?” or “Do you want me to say sorry?”. I say “No, no, no”. In fact it's not about you saying sorry, it's about the recognition that this is something that has happened and is happening in our culture in Australian history. It needs to be recognised so that some of the issues that stem from it can be treated and addressed.

I think cultural awareness is a must and I think schools need to adopt a much better curriculum. I have friends who are teachers asking me what to teach because they're given this really generalised idea of what it means to be an Aboriginal person. I think it's really amazing that I have friends who are teachers who are approaching me and eager to learn more, but I think the curriculum is failing them.

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