Covid-19 crisis in prisons
There are currently an estimated 11 million people either incarcerated or in custody, around the world. In prisons and jails, overcrowding and inadequate sanitation during the Covid-19 crisis have exacerbated these preexisting problems. Professional health physicians and Human Rights Watch advocates explain that “prisoners share toilets, bathrooms, sinks and dining halls”. Also, sometimes prisoners lack access to running water. These inadequacies reflect the (at times) — dismal quality of life that incarcerated people experience, globally.

Overcrowding Effects

Overcrowding and unclean living conditions during the Covid-19 pandemic have exacerbated the immense violations of human rights in prisons and jails. Haiti, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the Philippines’ prisons are currently at 450%, 432% and 537% capacity, respectively. Overcrowding allows Covid-19 to spread much more easily through prisons. Furthermore, it makes single rooms unavailable for both sick and healthy inmates. With the current state of affairs, physical distancing is simply not an option. The United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners expects incarcerated people infected with Covid-19 to receive medical attention in line with the WHO guidelines. Overcrowding hinders the fair treatment of incarcerated people — especially considering that prisoners are not typically afforded sufficient care from doctors during pre-pandemic times (let alone amid a pandemic).

Prisoners and Human Rights

Prisoners deserve basic human rights, access to healthcare and safe public health. UNAIDS, the WHO and the UNHCR are all calling for a mass release of prisoners — from a public safety standpoint. The release of incarcerated people who qualify as high-risk for Covid-19 (e.g., the elderly, mothers with children or who are breastfeeding, pregnant women and non-violent offenders) reduces health risks. These risks would otherwise remain unaddressed within prisons and jails (given their resources). Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS calls it [the Covid-19 crisis] an “unprecedented global emergency” and recognizes the dire need to defend the human rights of incarcerated people, worldwide.

Solitary Confinement during Covid-19

Solitary confinement is typically a severe punishment for inmates. However, the U.S. has mandated the practice for infected inmates in response to the Covid-19 crisis in prisons. Before the Covid-19, 60,000 inmates were in solitary confinement in federal prisons — whereas now there are 300,000. This practice has proven to be a disincentive for inmates to come forward as sick, even if they are knowingly infected with Covid-19.

Practical Solutions to the Problem

More practical and effective solutions to the Covid-19 crisis in prisons and jails include thorough testing and screening for the virus, to stay ahead of the spread. Another solution — comprehensive safety practices of employees who travel in and out of the facilities, daily. Still, there is too much overcrowding and simultaneously, too many at-risk populations in prisons and jails. These facilities cannot properly preserve the human rights and well-being of inmates during the current pandemic. Non-violent offenders, pregnant and/or breastfeeding women, people who are detained because they cannot afford bail, elderly people and those with misdemeanors are all examples of groups that could be safely released.

An Expert Outlook

UNAIDS, the U.N., the Prison Policy Initiative, the WHO and numerous other organizations tracking the health and safety of incarcerated people insist that the true solution to the Covid-19 crisis in prisons is to eliminate overcrowding. Therefore, the solution to overcrowding in prisons may well be to release large amounts of qualifying incarcerated people. This may hold true in particular, amid a global pandemic.

Nye Day
Photo: Pixbay

Police Reform in India
In January 2020, protests over a citizenship law targeting Muslims ravaged India’s streets. The Citizenship Amendment Act uses religion as a gateway to citizenship in India for illegal immigrants. However, not all religions are created equal in the eyes of the Indian Parliament: the bill favors South Asia’s major religions except for Islam, even though Muslims comprise 14.2% of India’s population. The bill created outrage throughout India’s Muslim population, leading the nation’s police to detain protesters and rioters in often forceful ways. Regulations and NGO movements are emerging to help decrease cruelty in India’s police system. Here are three actions advancing police reform in India.

Media Outlets

When the Citizenship Amendment Act protests and riots occurred, media outlets extensively covered these events. Their coverage helped to expose the bill’s injustices as well as police abuse. In an interview with the BBC, one family had a platform to share their son’s tragic story: “My son started running when he saw protests turning violent. He was shot in the stomach by police,” Muhammed Shareef stated. Shareef’s son, Raees, died three days later. The police denied the allegations. If the media had not illuminated Shareef’s story, fewer people would understand the severity of police violence in India. If this extensive media coverage continues, stronger advocacy and international awareness could be achieved.

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative

NGOs have also become powerful in encouraging police reform in India. These groups hold significant influence in supporting policy implementation. For example, in 2016, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative focused its efforts on improving the relationship between citizens and police in India. NGO initiatives like these are proving effective: since 2016, the violent crime rate with police in India has dropped by 5.88%.

Indian Police Foundation

The IPF’s goal is to act as a primary force in improving the humanity of India’s police system. The organization researches constructive management tools, effective methods of combating police brutality and procedures for hiring responsible police officers.

The Future of Police in India

With robust initiatives like those that media outlets, NGOs and the IPF implement, police reform in India is on the horizon. Despite this progress, there remains a clear need for improvement: a study that the National Campaign Against Torture performed found that 1,731 people died in police custody in 2019, averaging to five deaths per day. Although the extent of their impact is still developing, NGOs are becoming a powerful voice for change. With these three groups advancing police reform in India, there is hope for saving lives and creating constructive police reform.

– Grant Ritchey
Photo: Flickr

 

Philippines Incarceration System
In 2018, the Philippines held the sixth-highest prison population out of 21 Asian countries. As of 2019, the Philippines’ population rested at 108.31 million people, and 215,000 of those people were incarcerated. Therefore, the Philippines has an incarceration rate of about 200 per 100,000 citizens. There are 933 prisons running in the Philippines. Unfortunately, they are mismanaged and overcrowded. Below are five important facts about the incarceration system in the Philippines.

5 Facts About the Philippines’ Incarceration System

  1. Severe overcrowding – Rodrigo Duterte won the presidential election in 2016. He promised to end crime within six months. This promise also included the killing of 10s of thousands of criminals. Duterte’s election led to the infamous war on drugs and eventually, overcrowded prisons. Manila City Jail, the largest jail in the Philippines, is split into dorms that safely house 170 inmates. Currently, these dorms house around 500 people. Similarly, a room designated for 30 people holds about 130 in the Quezon City Jail. This severe overcrowding in prisons leads to illness and death tolls in the thousands.
  2. Pre-trial detainees – According to The World Prison Brief, 75.1% of incarcerations within the Philippines’ incarceration system are pre-trial. In 2018, 141,422 of 188,278 prisoners were pre-trial detainees. Unfortunately, many people are serving sentences without conviction. Pre-trial detention is found in judicial systems all over the world. In countries like the Philippines, people may serve time that outweighs their crimes. On average, prisoners in the Philippines are detained for nine months without being sentenced.
  3. High death tolls – About 5,200 inmates die annually at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP). According to Ernesto Tamayo, the hospital medical chief, these deaths are due to overcrowding, dirty living conditions and inmate violence. At a 2019 Philippines Senate hearing, Tamayo said that there were “uncontrollable outbreaks of pulmonary tuberculosis.” In addition to overcrowding, poor living conditions and inmate violence, NBP lacks nutritional food and basic healthcare. On account of these living conditions, Tamayo reports that at least one prisoner dies at NBP each day. Thankfully, politicians and prison employees are working to reduce overcrowding in the Philippines’ prisons. Human rights advocates have also called for the release of vulnerable inmates, hoping to protect them from poor living conditions.
  4. Vigilante justice – Duterte’s war on drugs escalated during his presidency. Jobless citizens were recruited to kill anyone suspected of dealing, buying or using drugs. This was one of few ways for some people to make money; many homeless and impoverished people joined the vigilante teams. In 2016, Duterte told the public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself.” Together, the Philippines’ police force and unidentified gunmen have killed 7,000 known drug dealers and users since Duterte’s presidency in 2016. The Philippines’ war on drugs has created the belief that extrajudicial violence and murder are necessary to fight crime. But, the Human Rights Watch has turned the narrative around on Duterte; they are publicizing information about the vigilante justice in the Philippines.
  5. Corruption – In August 2018, the public learned a former mayor may have been released from prison for good behavior. He was originally charged for rape and homicide in 1993. Similar stories of corruption in the Philippines’ prisons continued to emerge. In September 2018, the public learned that a woman was told her husband’s sentence would be shortened if she paid 50,000 pesos ($970). Later that year, senators stated that inmates could “live like kings” for a fee. This information led to further allegations: prison workers and officials were taking bribes to bring and distribute contraband to inmates. The contraband in question included cigarettes, cellphones and televisions. Supposedly, inmates can also pay for personal cooks and nurses. Inmates who cannot afford a better life within the prison are stuck in overcrowded and dirty rooms; these inmates have a higher rate of becoming ill and of death. Now that the corruption has been unearthed, officials are taking steps to weed it out, one prison at a time.

Possible Fix

With increased awareness of the Philippines’ prison system, there is hope that conditions will be improved and vigilante justice will end. It will take time to fix the Philippines’ judicial and incarceration systems. However, with the help of advocacy groups like the Human Rights Watch, a change could come sooner than expected.

Marlee Ingram
Photo: Flickr

mass incarcerations in Colombia
Colombia is a country in South America with a population of nearly 50 million as of 2018. It is the second largest country located in South America, with the 38th largest economy in the world. The Colombian Justice System is structured similarly to that of the United States, where defendants have the right to a fair and speedy trial and are sentenced by judges.

Colombian prisons have a problem with mass incarceration. They have an overall capacity of 80,928 people; however, their actual capacity is at 112,864 people as of May 2020. The majority of people are incarcerated for non-violent crimes, such as drug-related offenses. Mass incarcerations in Colombia are also an issue because they lead to other health issues, such as the transmission of HIV and tuberculosis. Here are four more important things to know about mass incarcerations in Colombia.

Mass Incarcerations in Colombia: 4 Things to Know

  1. Capacity Rates: There are 132 prisons in Colombia with a total maximum capacity of just over 80,000 people. Despite this capacity, Colombian prisons have an occupancy level of 139.5%, or just over 112,000 people. Women make up approximately 6.9% of this number, or about 7,700 women. There are no children actively incarcerated in Colombian prisons. The country’s congress has regularly fought against the release of prisoners, instead choosing to keep the prisons full.
  2. Effects of COVID-19: Prison riots are becoming increasingly common in Latin America with the spread of the coronavirus. Mass incarcerations in Colombia have created panic amongst the prisoners, who have demanded more attention to their conditions. The Colombian Minister of Justice, Margarita Cabello, has not outwardly acknowledged the prison riots as demands for better care against COVID-19. Instead, she has stated that the riots were an attempt to thwart security and escape from prison. Furthermore, because of the scarcity in the number of doctors, many prisoners have contracted and/or died from COVID-19. In one particular prison in central Colombia, over 30% of staffers and prisoners have become infected with the virus.
  3. Infectious Diseases: Beside COVID-19, mass incarcerations in Colombia have allowed for the spread of other infectious diseases, such as HIV and tuberculosis. Colombian prisons have designated cell blocks for those who contract HIV, as it is common for prisoners to engage in sexual relationships with guards. Healthcare facilities are not readily available in prisons, and condoms are in scarce supply. Active cases of tuberculosis (TB) also correlate with mass incarcerations in Colombia. Approximately 1,000 prisoners per 100,000 were found to have active cases of TB with little to no access to affordable care.
  4. Possible Solutions: Local citizens Mario Salazar and Tatiana Arango created the Salazar Arango Foundation for Colombian prisoners. Salazar conceived the idea after being imprisoned in 2012 on fraud charges and seeking ways to make serving his sentence more tolerable. The Salazar and Arango Foundation provides workshops for prisoners in the city of La Picota and puts on plays for fellow inmates. Prisoners have found the organization to be impactful to their self-esteem and their push for lower sentences.

Mass incarcerations have had major impacts on the Colombian prison system. Issues such as food shortages and violence have given way to poverty-like conditions with little action. Despite these conditions, organizations such as the Salazar Arango Foundation look to make mass incarcerations in Colombia more tolerable for those behind bars. Hopefully, with time, mass incarcerations in Colombia can eventually be eliminated.

– Alondra Belford
Photo: Unsplash

Mass Incarcerations in ColombiaThere is currently a problem of mass incarceration in Colombia. This South American country has a population of nearly 50 million people as of 2018. Currently, Colombian prisons have a capacity of 80,928 people. However, as of May 2020 the incarcerated population reached 112,864, or 139.5% of capacity. The Colombian prison system is known to be very overcrowded. Overcrowded prisons infer and amplify broader social issues. These prison environments amplify the spread of infectious diseases like HIV, tuberculosis and, most recently, COVID-19.

Effects of Mass Incarceration in Colombia on Health

  1. Capacity Rates: There are 132 prisons in Colombia with a total maximum capacity of just over 80,000 people. Despite this capacity, Colombian prisons have reached 139.5% of occupancy, or just over 112,000 people. Women make up about 6.9% of this number—about 7,700 women. Currently, there are no incarcerated in Colombia. Congress has actively fought against the release of prisoners, instead choosing to keep the prisons full.
  2. Effects of COVID-19: Prison riots are becoming increasingly common in Latin America with the spread of the COVID-19 virus. Mass incarceration in Colombia has created panic amongst prisoners, who have demanded more attention to their conditions. The Colombian Minister of Justice, Margarita Cabello, has not outwardly acknowledged the prison riots as demands for better care against COVID-19. Rather, Minister Cabello stated that the riots were an attempt to thwart security and escape from prison. Furthermore, due to the scarcity of doctors, prisoners continue to contract and/or die from complications of COVID-19.
  3. Infectious Diseases: Besides COVID-19, mass incarceration in Colombia has allowed the spread of diseases such as HIV and tuberculosis. Many Colombian prisons have a designated cell block for those who contract HIV, as it is common for prisoners to engage in sexual relationships with guards. Healthcare facilities are not readily available in prisons and condoms are in scarce supply. Active cases of tuberculosis also correlate with mass incarceration in Colombia. Approximately 1,000 per 100,000 prisoners have been diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unfortunately, mass incarceration has further limited prisoners’ access to affordable care.

Striving for Improved Conditions

Local citizens Mario Salazar and Tatiana Arango created the Salazar Arango Foundation for Colombian prisoners. After being imprisoned on fraud charges in 2012, Mario Salazar’s experience drove him to find ways to make prison sentences more tolerable. Salazar and Arango Foundation provides workshops for prisoners in the city of La Picota and puts on plays for fellow inmates. Prisoners have found the organization to be impactful to their self-esteem and their push for lower sentences.

Mass incarceration in the Colombian prison system is both a result and driver of poverty. Issues of food shortages and violence have created poverty-stricken conditions within prisons. Despite these conditions, organizations such as the Salazar Arango Foundation seek to improve the lives of prisoners. Hopefully, with time, external forces will help to reduce the rate of incarceration in Colombia. In essence, efforts to due so would have considerable impact on the lives of prisoners and their families.

– Alondra Belford
Photo: Flickr

Over-incarceration and Poverty
The era of mass incarceration, or as others call it, over-incarceration, is not solely an issue within the United States. Countries around the world are also experiencing a rise in incarceration rates. With the rise of global poverty comes the rise of imprisonment. Sadly, incarceration disproportionately affects people living in poverty. This system of retribution creates a conveyor belt of crime. When authorities arrest people living in poverty more often, it becomes more challenging for targeted individuals to provide for them and their families and secure a living income; as a result, many felons may resort to crime out of necessity. These factors contribute to the phenomenon many countries are experiencing including high rates of recidivism and the number of ex-felons that authorities re-arrest. This cycle of crime is continuing and many impoverished are behind bars; people must address the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

The Relationship Between Over-Incarceration and Poverty

The estimated number of prisoners worldwide was 10.35 million in 2018, but the number is most likely 11 million as there are a number of countries that have a difficult time collecting data. Eleven million may not seem like a lot compared to the over 7 billion people in the world, but that is only the number of people in prison and not the millions on probation who face difficulties surviving after prison. On top of that, a prison sentence is hardly an individual experience. When authorities arrest someone so they enter prison, it affects their family and often makes it more difficult to obtain a livable income. Men make up the majority of the prison population, and in countries where people see men as the breadwinners of the family, this puts stress on the family the men leave behind. Over-incarceration refers to not just the imprisonment of someone, but also the group of people their imprisonment affects.

Pre-Trial Detentions Across the World

Much of over-incarceration is due to the stigmatization of drug users and the incarceration of nonviolent drug offenders, as well as many countries, like the U.S., using pre-trial detention. Around 30 percent of prison populations have not received a conviction. Pre-trial detention is a major reason for why criminal justice affects the impoverished more than the wealthy. A lack of legal assistance and expensive bails lead people to enter pre-trial detention.

Many countries have attempted to find alternatives to pre-trial detention. In Bolivia, the government has implemented a limit on the length of pre-trial detention. Similarly, Egypt is currently attempting to pass a bill capping pretrial sentences at six months. Colombia has put an emphasis on expediting the low-level cases, to cut down the number of prisoners who have not obtained a conviction. There are efforts around the world focusing on criminal justice reform as a way to create a more equal system.

Over-Incarceration Reforms Worldwide

 To reduce the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty, many countries have looked to focus on rehabilitation, using social integration and training. In this way, prison helps ex-felons return to normal life and find employment. Behind the U.S. and China, Brazil has the third-largest prison population with over 690,000 prisoners. Seeing the mass incarceration levels, the Association for the Protection and Assistance to Convicts (APAC), opened its first prison in 1972. The APAC looks to rehabilitate the people that enter its prisons, referring to those inside as recovering people. A system such as the one the APAC created marks a change in consciousness towards criminal justice systems around the world. Instead of punishment, rehabilitation drives the system by helping the marginalized seamlessly transition into normal life. The APAC’s prisons allow its members freedom, giving them the keys to their own cells and privileges to wash their clothes, cook their own meals and study what they please. Nineteen countries around the world have begun to implement similar prisons.

Penal Reform International’s Work With Recidivism

As Penal Reform International states, “Criminal justice policies affect nearly every aspect of the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), including poverty, food security, human rights, health and well-being, education, social inclusion, gender equality, employment, environmental issues, human security, access to justice, inclusive political processes, and governance and the rule of law.” Penal Reform International conducts work worldwide to help promote fair criminal justice practices. Its focus is on promoting rehabilitation and fair treatment by preventing torture and ensuring a speedy and fair trial for alleged felons. The group works with intergovernmental organizations to provide more rights to offenders and victims, as well as assist policymakers, criminal justice authorities and civil society to help de-link the relationship between over-incarceration and poverty.

Jared Hynes
Photo: Flickr

Corruption in Argentina
Political corruption has long plagued Argentina’s government, dating all the way back to the 1800s. In the country’s modern history, there has rarely been a decade where some sort of political scandal has not occurred. However, the country has been steadily improving over the past decade. Here are 10 facts about political corruption in Argentina.

10 Facts About Corruption in Argentina

  1. Corruption Index Rating: The country had a Corruption Index rating of 40 in 2018, which was its best rating since 1995. This rating is based on the level of perceived corruption in a country’s public sector. The rating reached its lowest in the early 2000s during the tenure of former Argentine President Fernando de la Rua but has steadily risen in the following years, reaching higher numbers in the late 2010s. Its 2018 corruption index of 40 is fairly high if one compares it to other Latin American countries, although it is well below more developed countries.
  2. Police Corruption: Several Argentine businesses have reported that the police are among the most corrupt government agencies in the country and that Argentinians cannot rely on the police force to enforce the law. The Economist reported in 2014 that the police were reforming their systems, however. This started with giving policemen a higher salary, which is still increasing to this day, to reduce the risk of metropolitan police officers accepting bribes in exchange for their silence. While many issues remain with high ranking federal officials, Argentina is taking more action to reduce the amount of crime happening on the streets.
  3. Political Corruption: Political corruption often plagues businesses in Argentina due to excessive taxes and expensive, difficult customs process, with much of this revenue going to Argentina’s elite. In 2018, Forbes reported that people siphoned nearly $36 billion and put it into the pockets of wealthy businessmen in a corrupt public-private ring. Reports have determined that legislators have also taken bribes, leading to a messy lawmaking and enforcement process.
  4. Human Rights: The constitution of Argentina guarantees freedom of the press and speech, although journalists do receive threats. Because the government lacks federal legislation pertaining to access to information for the public, the government is able to manipulate economic statistics. There remain some problems pertaining to the safety of the press, but the government highly respects freedom of speech and it has taken reports of human rights violations very seriously. Argentina is also the first country in Latin America to pass laws protecting LGBT rights.
  5. The Justice 2020 Initiative: According to Anti-Corruption Digest, in response to issues revolving around legal loopholes and lack of criminal convictions, Argentine President Mauricio Macri enacted the Justice 2020 Initiative. This plan seriously overhauled Argentina’s court systems, which are in need of legal upgrades, along with fixing several legal loopholes. ACD cites that the changes from this act have doubled the court system’s productivity and helped clear the prior backlog of people waiting for prosecution.
  6. Prison Conditions: Prison conditions in Argentina are very poor. Prisons in the country tend to suffer overcrowding and violence between inmates; police abuse and bad upkeep of prison facilities are also very common. Under the Justice 2020 Initiative, President Macri made a commitment to prevent these abuses from happening further, and in 2011, members of the police made a commitment that it would only use force when absolutely necessary.
  7. Judicial Corruption: High ranking officials in Argentina are among the largest problems in regards to corruption in Argentina, with many of them accepting or demanding bribes for political favors such as pardoning crimes. High court judges are especially at risk of corruption; since 2003, with the approval of the senate, the president can handpick people for the courts, leading to poor separation of power between the executive and judicial branches. There are a president, vice president and three justices that currently preside over Argentina’s supreme court, making the policing of high ranking officials challenging to do. The federal court system is small, understaffed and underutilized, making the trial and removal of high ranking officials a long and difficult process.
  8. Quality of Life: Despite government corruption in Argentina, it remains one of the best countries in Latin America in terms of education. Nearly everyone in the country also has access to a reliable source of water and sanitation, with only around 1 percent not having access to water and less than 4 percent not having sanitation. Part of this could be due to Argentina’s abundant natural resources and booming economy, but one should also credit the country’s increasing focus on human rights enforcement.
  9. Abortion: While Argentina is a Latin American pioneer when it comes to human rights, women’s rights still remain an issue in the country. Abortion is illegal in Argentina unless the pregnancy is a danger to the mother’s health. The Catholic Church, which is the faith of the vast majority in Argentina, condemns abortion. Women’s rights groups have lobbied for legal abortion, including in 2018 when the country held a vote on the status of it.
  10. The Fundacion Banco de Alimentos: There are many nonprofits in Argentina that dedicate themselves to helping improve the quality of life for those who live in poverty. In the wake of severe socio-economic issues, the Fundacion Banco de Alimentos, a nonprofit food bank that emerged in 2000, acts as a channel for citizens to give food to Argentina’s most impoverished inhabitants. The vast majority of donors are local companies, farmers and supermarkets that donate food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Considering the country’s most recent economic issues, this is a great way for businesses to give back to the less fortunate in Argentina and reduce poverty without going through the government; over 1,000 communities participate, and people have donated over 5,000,000 food products with the food bank reaching over 143,000 people.

Political corruption in Argentina has plagued the country for centuries and one can trace much of this corruption back to issues with federal officials. There is not enough separation between the executive and judicial branches, which has led to the country’s continual issues with properly handling crime and enforcing justice. More citizen lobbying and human rights groups will be necessary to end government corruption and further push for the protection of human rights in Argentina’s near future.

– Andrew Lueker
Photo: Flickr

poverty among Aboriginal AustraliansAboriginal Australians have faced discrimination, genocide and marginalization within their own lands since the British began their initial colonization of the continent in 1788. Aboriginals did not receive any credence in the eye of the Australian government until 1967. Because of this, poverty among Aboriginal Australians skyrocketed.

By simply removing the words “…other than the Aboriginal people in any State…” in section 51(xxvi) and the whole of section 127 of the constitution, the country finally saw Aboriginals as their own individualized people. They are now part of the census and the government can make laws specifically concerning Aboriginal issues. However, even with the government’s recognition of these peoples did not eliminate the discrimination and inequality they often face from the government and society. Here are eight facts about aboriginal Australians’ quality of life.

8 Facts About Aboriginal Australians’ Quality of Life

  1. Today in Australia, a mere 3.1 percent of the Australian population is indigenous. Even though they make up so little of the population, however, 19.3 percent of Aboriginal Australians live in poverty compared to 12.4 percent of other Australians.
  2. Only 4.8 percent of Aboriginal peoples have employment within the upper salary levels in Australia. This low percentage may link to pervasive racism within the country. Nineteen percent of Australians believe they are casual racists but refuse to change. Twenty-six percent of Australians have anti-Aboriginal concerns. Meanwhile, eleven percent of Australians do not think all races are equal. There does seem to be a changing tide, however, as 86 percent of Australians believe that Australia needs to do something to fight the pervasive racism in the country.
  3. There have been significant improvements and money allocations towards the betterment of the indigenous communities in Australia in recent years. In 2017, $33.4 billion went toward government expenditure on indigenous Australians, a 23.7 percent increase since 2009 (taking into account inflation). That is $44,886 per indigenous person or two times the amount of direct government expenditure on non-indigenous peoples. However, Aboriginal peoples are still more than twice as likely to be in the bottom 20 percent for equivalized gross weekly household income. High unemployment and lasting impacts from colonialism have caused low income in Aboriginal homes.
  4. Today, people often find that Aboriginal communities in non-rural areas live off welfare in crowded housing. About 20 percent of Aboriginal Australians living in non-rural areas were living in overcrowded accommodations in 2014 and 2015. In remote or very remote areas of Australia, the overcrowding was almost 40 percent. Overcrowding can often lead to a faster spread of illness in these communities. The proliferation of disease in overcrowded spaces creates a significant financial burden on families who must then seek treatment for their ailing loved ones. However, Australia has put multiple initiatives into place to address and resolve these issues. In 2008, the Federal government started and funded the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing.
  5. From 2014 to 2015, three in 10 Aboriginals (29 percent) 15 and over experienced homelessness for a portion of time. Homelessness prevents individuals not only from human, tribal and societal interaction but can also often prevent them from being active members in the workforce, and therefore, the economy. Aboriginal peoples 15 and over in remote or very remote areas experienced homelessness in their lifetime at a 3 percent increase from non-remote Aboriginals (32 percent).
  6. Aboriginal Australian children between the ages of 5 to 17 are committing suicide at a five times higher rate than non-indigenous peoples in Australia. There is a direct link between the suicide rate and the crushing poverty in these communities and failing government-funded aid services. People have called upon the Australian government to either increase spending on indigenous peoples’ aid or to even wholly reconsider its tactics. As of 2019, the Australian government has implemented restrictions on takeaway alcohol, broadening education initiatives and developing further cultural healing projects.
  7. More than 28 percent of Australia’s prison population was Aboriginal in 2016, which is a shocking fact as less than 3 percent of Australia’s population identifies as indigenous. This widespread incarceration significantly impacts rates of poverty in the Aboriginal community. When one removes a person from a home–that statistically is likely to suffer overcrowding and have underprivileged individuals–they remove supporting income from an already disadvantaged family.
  8. People widely acknowledged that limited completion of education, and more specifically, secondary education, have close ties to poverty for Aboriginal Australians. In previous years, Aboriginal peoples were less likely to obtain a Year 12 or equivalent level of education; 45 percent of Aboriginals achieved this level of education in 2008. However, the gap is closing fast, and as of 2014-2015, records indicate that that percentage has risen to 62 percent of Aboriginal peoples obtaining their Year 12 level of education.
Though the gap between non-indigenous and Aboriginal people ages 20 to 24 with post-school qualifications has not changed, the number of indigenous peoples in this age range who have received a secondary education has doubled since 2002.

NASCA

NASCA, or the National Aboriginal Supporting Chance Academy, is a nonprofit that works directly within indigenous communities doing mentoring, education and development programs. Its initiatives seek to create empowerment and movement from within these communities and alleviate poverty among Aboriginal Australians. Each year, over 1,200 indigenous youths directly benefit from the organization’s work.
In 2018 alone, the program delivered a total of 6,006 educational and health program hours, and attendance in its northern territory program schools saw a 33 percent increase in school attendance. Its work is seeking to create pride in communities and put into motion change that will bleed into the higher political and social sphere of Australia.

Australia has so long ignored its Aboriginal community on both a social and governmental level, so it is a welcome and pleasant change to see so much work on behalf of an underprivileged group of people. Though there is still far to go, some are taking steps both within and outside of the community to build up the visibility and civil rights of the Aboriginal peoples and their needs. Poverty among Aboriginal Australians has set them back long enough. Though they are undeniably Australian, they are fiercely and independently Aboriginal peoples with a right to civil liberties, native land and socioeconomic equality.

– Emma Hodge
Photo: Flickr

Political Prisoners in Burma
Violence and instability have racked Burma in recent years and the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people has driven much of this. During this conflict, authorities have imprisoned many nonviolent activists and journalists for speaking out against the government of Burma. Unfortunately, this inhumane and unjust treatment of political prisoners in recent years is a continuation of a historical trend of human rights abuses that the Burmese government perpetrated.

Recently, U.S. lawmakers have begun to take a legislative response to Burma’s treatment of political prisoners. In July 2019, Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Act to the Senate with Senator Marsha Blackburn as a cosponsor. The Act primarily seeks to offer various forms of assistance to Burmese prisoners of conscience, and also has sections dealing with child soldiers and freedom of the press. In order to understand what this bill would do and why it is so important, it will be useful to take a look at the historical background of political prisoners in Burma.

Prisoners of Conscience in Burma

While Burma is a country that has always struggled with implementing a stable democracy and promoting free speech, a particularly brutal government led-campaign of killings and arrests of protestors took place in 1988. Since 1962, general Gen Ne Win and his Burma Socialist Programme Party, the only political party allowed in Burma’s government, led the country. In order to protest the repressive regime, student activists organized a nationwide general strike that took place on August 8, 1988, in what people came to know as the 8888 Uprising. The protests prompted a brutal backlash in which government forces killed thousands of protestors and arrested thousands more.

Following the 8888 Uprising, Burma’s military leaders formed a junta known as the State Law and Order Restoration Council or SLORC. In 1989, SLORC declared martial law within the country and arrested thousands of people. The council then became the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in 1997 and began arresting thousands of members of the National League for Democracy (NLD), an opposition party led by Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2007, a protest movement of Buddhist monks against the ruling SPDC also resulted in hundreds of arrests.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s NLD party won a landslide victory in national elections in 2015 and officially came to power in 2016. Kyi, who became Burma’s State Counselor, a position akin to Prime Minister, had campaigned promising to promote human rights and democracy within the country and promised not to jail people for their political beliefs. However, groups such as the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners have documented that since the Kyi took office in 2015, at least 35 political prisoners have received convictions. In fact, the AAPP counted 42 percent more political prisoners in 2015 than the year before.

The Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act

Senator Ed Markey introduced the Burma Political Prisoners Assistance Act on July 10, 2019, and Senator Marsha Blackburn co-sponsored it. Since Senator Markey is a Democrat and Senator Blackburn is a Republican, this bill represents a newfound bipartisan statement of policy regarding political prisoners in Burma. The bill includes a variety of provisions aimed at assisting political prisoners in the country, including:

  • A statement of policy that supports Burma’s transition to a “democratic, peaceful, and prosperous state” calls on Burma to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners and urges Burma to repeal laws used to persecute those who speak out against the government.

  • A requirement for the Secretary of State to provide various kinds of support for civil society groups that work to secure the release of political prisoners. These forms of State Department assistance include providing support for the documentation of human rights abuses with respect to political prisoners in Burma and supporting travel costs, legal fees and post-incarceration mental health and career opportunities for former political prisoners and their families.

  • A specification in the U.S. legal code regarding the definition of prisoners of conscience.

  • “The delegation of specific United States mission staff who will observe trials in politically motivated cases.”

  • The bill also includes a section condemning Burma for its use of child soldiers and specifically calls for the release of the child soldier Aung Ko Htwe.

Conclusion

The bill in its current form has gone to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, which will debate it. It is unclear whether the bill will make it out of committee, or if it has a chance to pass if the Senate as a whole considers it for a vote.

The Borgen Project reached out to Senator Blackburn for a comment. She stated, “The people of Burma deserve to live in a nation where speaking freely does not result in political imprisonment. Last month, Senator Markey and I introduced legislation that will provide the State Department with more tools to advocate for democracy and provide aid. I ask my colleagues in the Senate to stand in solidarity with the people of Burma by swiftly passing this legislation.”

Given the grave human rights situation in Burma with respect to prisoners of conscience, it is paramount for the Senate to deliver a comprehensive, bipartisan response.

– Andrew Bryant
Photo: Flickr

Prison Reform
Prison reform is a global imperative. According to the World Prison Brief,
26,734 people are incarcerated in the Dominican Republic as of 2018, and 30 percent of the Dominican Republic’s population of 10.6 million are below the poverty line. The Centre of Excellence on Prison Reform and Drug Demand Reduction in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic was created by the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to strengthen criminal justice in the Caribbean and Latin America.

Prison Reform in Central America

This prison reformation focuses on training programs for previously incarcerated people and promotes effective policies regarding healthcare and prison conditions. Many incarcerated people suffer from poverty, which leads to homelessness, crime, drugs and violence.

Prison reform by the Centre includes social reintegration programs post-release, and job and educational resources as well. The Centre will also place more focus on women, juveniles, youth with incarcerated mothers, drug-dependent prisoners and mental health. Since many prisoners cannot afford the Centre’s reformation, the UNODC aims to make these resources within the current prison system affordable. In the Najayo prison, classrooms are built to reach goals of zero percent illiteracy and the provision of college-level courses. Prisoners here are treated more humanely with a bed, desk in classroom and medical attention.

The prison system had to be reformed in the Dominican Republic due to how: previous imprisonment disrupted families, overcrowding promoted the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and prison time encouraged poverty rather than reduced it. The Centre has been so successful in prison reform in the Dominican Republic that inmates’ rate of returning has reduced from 50 percent prior to the Centre to less than 5 percent where facilities have adopted reformation programs.

UNODC’s Global Efforts

The UNODC has also reformed the prison system in Panama by focusing on the health and safety of prisoners in order to properly reintegrate inmates back into society. Panama has a high rate of incarceration, with 400 per 100,000 people as prisoners and a remand rate of 70 percent. Prison reform in Panama looks like IntegrArte, which is a fashion program that rehabilitates female prisoners in Panama by turning their crafts (hand-sewn bags, clothing, etc) into sellable profit.

Participants in the program are very appreciative of such efforts, and say that sewing and IntegreArte as a reformation program in prison helps greatly with the transition back into society. These programs open up micro-financing and housing opportunities and help people escape the confines of poverty.

Costa Rica also undergoes prison reform with WOLA, Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas. In 2013, Costa Rica had the third highest percentage of prisoners in Central American, and now the nation’s prison reform focuses on education, drug decriminalization and rehabilitation.

In 2016, the Ministry of Justice and Peace reduced prison terms for women who smuggled drugs into prisons to a minimum of three to eight years, if they met certain conditions. The result? One hundred and twenty female prisoners were released immediately in Costa Rica, and have since sought health services.

In fact, Costa Rica just passed a law in 2017 for eliminating criminal records for released people who have served sentences under certain conditions. It is still early to conduct studies of the results of this law, but one can assume that this action can reduce poverty of former inmates by providing jobs.

Mexico, El Salvador and Efforts at Rehabilitation

Mexico and El Salvador are also trying to adopt drug decriminalization and reduce gang crime and violence of poverty-ridden areas by using education and business development to build and strengthen communities. Prison reformation programs by the government  — such as drug rehabilitation and mandatory work trainings — have reduced the number of El Salvador’s homicides from 6,071 to 4,881 between 2015 and 2016.

In addition, rehabilitation and work trainings have reduced Mexico’s incarceration rate dramatically, with 37 percent fewer inmates in 2016 than 2015. A report by WOLF concluded that strict drug legislation and its aggressive implementation are key factors in rising incarceration rates and extreme prison overcrowding.

Prison reform is essential to reduce crime, violence, inhumane prison living conditions and poverty. UNODC prison reform programs such as the Centre are very important in Central America as it helps combat crime, drug trade and poverty for high-crime, low-income neighborhoods.

– Areina Ismail
Photo: Flickr