For Australian Aborigines, life in the Outback has grown so bleak, jail is not only more appealing, it has nearly become a rite of passage for teens. A parliamentary report last week called the worsening situation a national crisis, noting the imprisonment rate for indigenous Australians has soared 66% in the past decade. Persistent unemployment, disease, and alcoholism have worked against 40 years of government efforts to help the 517,000 indigenous living on the fringes of society. Aborigines make up 2.3% of the country's 22.6 million people, but about 25% of Australia's adult prison population is Aboriginal.
"We must act now before we lose another generation to the criminal justice system," said an Aboriginal social justice commissioner. But the damage may have already been done: One in 40 Aborigines is estimated to suffer from brain damage, known as fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, as a result of their mothers drinking alcohol while pregnant. Most teenagers who suffer the disorder get in trouble with police—Aboriginal children account for 59% of inmates in Australian juvenile detention centers, making them 28 times more likely to be detained than other Australian children.