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The Queensland (Qld) State Government has announced that it will shut down the Murri courts program - including the Indigenous, Drug and Special Circumstances courts that sentence Indigenous offenders who plead guilty to an offence which falls within the jurisdiction of the Magistrates Court.
By closing the courts, the State Government expects to save $35.7 million over four years. The program is expected to conclude at the end of December, 2012.
Founding member of the Murri Court in Brisbane, Uncle Albert Holt, says the State Government will need to start building more prisons after its announcement. Mr Holt said the Government had opened the flood gates to state jails, with Aboriginal children already comprising around 70% of the prison population in Qld, Western Australia and the Northern Territory.
Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Jarrod Bleijie, said the decision to stop funding the Murri courts program was made because it was not working effectively.
'The Murri court was not delivering consistent results and did not justify the amount being spent to keep it operating,' he said. 'We are making the hard decisions to cut government spending so we can stabilise the debt. The only alternative is to put up government fees and charges.'
However, Queensland Law Society president, Dr John de Groot, said the calculations may be based on a false economy and the outcome of the move may end up costing Queenslanders far more than the Government's expected savings.
'Diversionary courts like the Murri, Special Circumstances and the Drug courts play an important role in rehabilitating offenders, reducing the rate of crime and creating considerable long-term cost savings for the community,' Dr de Groot said.
'Dollars aside, this move by the government also raises serious justice issues. We would agree that there is no quick fix for mental health issues, rehabilitating those with drug dependencies or supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders to break out of the cycle of crime. It takes time, perseverance, innovation and political will,' he said.
Murri courts were founded in Qld in 2006, in response to the increasing representation of Indigenous people in prison. The courts facilitate the use of Aboriginal customs to support and rehabilitate Indigenous offenders, and Indigenous Elders are sometimes involved in the sentencing process.
Source: The Queensland Times and The Satellite
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