Like many people she knows, Kelly Briggs asked a white friend to rent the house she lives in after six months of applying as an Aboriginal woman and getting nowhere.
“I’m too dark,” she said of the failed attempts to rent a home in Moreewith her two teenage children.
The 34-year-old reformed drug addict, who has a diploma in business governance, previously had a steady job two years ago and has been trying to find a new one ever since.
“I’m just at the point where I’m applying for receptionist positions,” she said.
Ms Briggs is not surprised by the findings of the landmark Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage report released on Wednesday.
The report found hospital admissions for intentional self-harm increased 48 per cent between 2004-05 and 2012-13.
She is among the statistics. Seven years ago she was admitted to hospital for self-harm when she returned from Brisbane to her home town of Moree and tried to find employment.
“It’s just this really deep, deep feeling of you don’t belong and no matter what you’re doing, nothing’s going to change. You feel like a non-person,” Ms Briggs said of the experience.
“I just couldn’t see any way out.”
She has since been diagnosed with a mental health condition and, while she had a stable upbringing in which both parents worked, said she had experienced racism all her life.
“My first run-in with racism was preschool,” Ms Briggs said. “Racism in Moree is so entrenched that people don’t see it.
“People were calling me ‘blackie’, ‘Abo’ of course. A little girl told me I was dirty.”
She puts the increasing rates of self-harm among Aboriginal people to entrenched disadvantage and a lack of jobs and money.
The people who work with the growing indigenous prison population are not shocked by the mammoth 57 per cent increase in the adult imprisonment rate between 2000 and 2013.
Changes to bail laws and parole and probation, as well as mandatory sentencing and a lack of legal resources, were increasingly bringing people already living in poverty and at a social and economic disadvantage into contact with the law, Shane Duffy, the chairman of the National Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, said.
“Tough on crime” policies were also lengthening court lists in remote areas and making it harder for alleged offenders to comply with bail conditions.
“Court lists are blowing out and it does tend to lend itself to a sausage factory,” Mr Duffy said.
He said others with mental health problems were waiting in prison on remand for up to 18 months while a report about their condition was completed.
Debbie Kilroy, the chief executive of prisoner advocacy group Sisters Inside, said a growing number of indigenous women were being imprisoned for breaching domestic violence orders, particularly in northern Australia.
Some spoke English only as a second language and could not read or write, making it difficult to defend themselves or explain a history of violence towards them, she said.
“It’s clear that Aboriginal women are being targeted with laws and policies,” she said. “[And] they don’t have the access to education to deal with the legal profession.”
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