There has been widespread condemnation within the Australian Catholic Church of the practice of mandatory sentencing following the death of a 15 year old boy in custody in the Northern Territory.
   Chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Bishop Kevin Manning called on the Federal Government to use its powers to prevent the reoccurence of such a tragedy.
   He said: "The Catholic community does not want to see young people criminalised and sent to prison, but rather to help to change their ways and become responsible participants in society."
   President of the Australian Conference of Leaders of Religious Institutes, Sr Margaret Cassidy CSB, claimed in a letter addressed to the Prime Minister and other high level politicians that the laws are 'totally unjust and hence should be abolished.'
   She asked: "Does the crime for which [the 15 year old boy] was interred warrant such a response? Is this same pubishment inflicted on non-indigenous offenders?"
   Meanwhile Br Shane Wood of the Broome diocesan Social Justice office suggested that the sentencing called into question the resolve of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
   He said: "The Royal Commission .. made 339 recommendations. How many of these are still to be taken seriously? Aboriginal people are still 14 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Aboriginal Australians. They make up 33% of the prison population in Western Australia - 73% in the Northern Territory. Mandatory sentencing can only make these statistics worse."
   ACSJC/ACLRI/Broome Diocese 16/2/00

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