Justice reinvestment in action with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are significantly over-represented in the justice system for complex and often historic reasons.

In the last ten years there has been an 88 per cent increase overall in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults in prison. As a result, they:

  • make up 2 per cent of the Australian population but 27 per cent of the prison population
  • are 13 times more likely to be detained (and 24 times more likely if they are young) than non-Indigenous Australians.

The Change the Record campaign is calling for change in the justice system for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and has released a blueprint for action. More on the Change the Record campaign here.

The Australian Law Reform Commission released a report in March 2018 Pathways to Justice–Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples   that Australian Law Reform Commission (tabled March 2018)

There are a number of specific recommendations for concrete actions that the Federal Government can take to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in the criminal justice system. These include:
• the establishment of a national justice reinvestment body and supporting justice reinvestment trials around the country; and
• developing national criminal justice targets.

ALRC recommended that all levels of government: “…promote justice reinvestment through redirection of resources from incarceration to prevention, rehabilitation and support, in order to reduce re-offending and the long-term economic cost of incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.”

The Pathways to Justice report specifically recommends:

4.1 the establishment of an independent justice reinvestment body to promote the reinvestment of resources from the criminal justice system to local community development initiatives, to address the drivers of crime and incarceration, and to provide expertise in the methodology of justice reinvestment.

4.2 government support for place-based justice reinvestment initiatives, through resourcing, facilitating access to data, and facilitating participation by and coordination between relevant government departments.

See below for a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander case studies. Most justice reinvestment projects underway across Australia also either focus on or include young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Visit JR in Victoria and JR in Australia for more case studies.

Case Studies

Justice Reinvestment in Bourke, NSW
One of the most significant justice reinvestment pilot programs in Australia is the Maraguka Initiative in the remote New South Wales town of Bourke.

Since 2012, Just Reinvest NSW has worked with the Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party (BAWP) to address challenges facing young people in the community, particularly around offending and incarceration, while at the same time creating alternate pathways for young people.

In Bourke, young Aboriginal people make up 2.2 per cent of the local population but represent half of the youth prison population. Of the 223 young Aboriginal people living in Bourke, one in five (21 per cent or 47 young people) were on remand or had been sentenced, not including those on bail or non-custodial sentencing. In 2012, the cost of incarcerating those 47 young people was $2.2 million dollars, with each prisoner costing $230,000.  A 20 per cent reduction in youth incarceration would save the NSW Government an estimated $500,000.

The majority of crimes committed by young people in Bourke are driving offences, property offences and breaches of bail.

Bourke community leader Alistair Ferguson approached Just Reinvest NSW about a trial.

Bourke is applying a Collective Impact approach which involves:

  • A whole of community and whole-of-government common agenda to solve social problems to reduce youth crime and increase community safety through a coordinated joint plan of action.
  • Shared measures for change based on real-time data.
  • A common approach, based on best evidence, for creating change in shared measures and developing the will and capacity within the system to implement these responses.
  • A backbone organisation to perform the necessary functions of facilitating the collaboration, continuously communicating, and tracking change in the shared measures.
  • A clear financial picture of the cost of implementation and the costs saved through effective implementation.

Three initial circuit breakers have been implemented into the community.

  1. Initiatives addressing issues in regard to bail, sentencing and the Youth Offenders Act, including the increased use of warnings, engagement of the Magistrates Court around alternative options, community based sentencing and increased use of Youth Justice Conference youth workers.
  2. Warrants clinics have been introduced to allow facilities where those issued with a warrant can meet with a lawyer, community corrections office, and YOTS representatives who will assist with court applications.
  3. Drivers programs, education programs and assistance to young people trying to obtain their licence are being provided to address the prevalence of automobile theft and driving offences.

Figures released in October 2018 by Maranguka show that in Bourke between 2015 and 2017 rates fell by:

  • 18% for major offences
  • 34% for non-domestic violence related assaults
  • 39% for domestic violence related assaults
  • 39% for drug offences
  • 35% for driving offences

Rates of re-offending also dropped significantly. There was a 72% reduction in the number of people under 25 arrested for driving without a licence.

Justice Reinvestment in Katherine, NT

The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and Northern Territory Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) received funding from the Northern Territory Law Society to explore using a justice reinvestment framework to address offending by and incarceration of young Aboriginal people (10-17 years) in Katherine.

Katherine was selected as a suitable pilot site based primarily on the level of youth offending and disproportionate incarceration.

The project aims to look closely at justice reinvestment’s potential to tackle broader social issues impacting Aboriginal people – not only because they underpin offending but as they also feed into continuing Aboriginal disadvantage and social exclusion.

The project will consider the costs associated with incarcerating recidivist offenders for whom earlier less punitive intervention may have had a positive impact.
Justice Reinvestment in Katherine – Report on Initial Community Consultation

Evidence on Justice Reinvestment given at the NT Royal Commission
The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory heard evidence from a justice reinvestment panel, which can be found here. The Royal Commission was announced following the ABC Four Corners expose titled ‘Australia’s Shame’ which revealed the ‘chilling’ conditions young people were facing in the Northern Territory Youth Detention Centres. The Royal Commission is looking not only at the treatment of children and young persons detained at youth detention facilities but also at the current oversight mechanisms and safeguards in place. This includes considering improvements that can be made to the child protection system in the Northern Territory such as identifying early intervention options and developing pathways for children at risk.

The following links provide an overview of the justice reinvestment evidence given:

Community Based Koori Youth Justice Initiatives – Warrnambool, Victoria
Through the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), the Victorian Government and the Victorian Koori community are committed to improving Koori justice outcomes and reducing negative contact with the criminal justice system.

The Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees (RAJACs) play an important role in implementing and monitoring AJA initiatives.

In Warrnambool, the Barwon South West RAJAC has overseen 10 years of community partnership work culminating in a 44 per cent reduction in the numbers of Koori young people on youth justice orders, down to nil for a period of 18 months over 2013 and 2014.

The whole of community response centred around a range of initiatives, strong partnerships and working relationships between Koori workers, Koori organisations and networks, families, schools, police, and youth justice workers, that enabled pro-active and early intervention with children and young people at risk and their families.
Western District Good Practice Case Study Report

More on Justice Reinvestment in Victoria here and in Australia here.

Policies and law

Aboriginal Justice Agreement
The Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement is a formal agreement between the Victorian Government and the Koori community to work together to improve Koori justice outcomes.

Understanding the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement provides a brief background on the formal agreement and how it has evolved over time. The report highlights the vision, aims and strategic objectives of the AJA, including some examples of the programs and initiatives to improve Koori justice outcomes and reduce over-representation in the criminal justice system.

More on Justice Reinvestment in Victoria here.
More on practical implementation of Justice Reinvestment Projects in Indigenous communities across Australia here.

Reports and research

A Brighter Tomorrow, Keeping Indigenous kids in the community and out of detention in Australia was published by Amnesty International Australia.

It calls for a justice reinvestment approach that includes both early intervention and community responses to achieving long-term change. The report highlights the disproportionate incarceration rates for Aboriginal Australians and calls on the Australian Government to address the underlying causes of crime.
More on the report and Community Is Everything campaign here.

Exploring the feasibility of Justice Reinvestment in the Australian Capital Territory
was produced following a workshop organised by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS).

The report considers the implementation of a justice reinvestment approach for the ACT, suggesting that it should take a whole-of-community approach.
More on the report and the broader ACT Justice Reinvestment Strategy here.

Justice Reinvestment in Australia Five Years On
Chapter 4 of this report focuses on justice reinvestment and how it relates to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. It details the justice reinvestment programs in the New South Wales town of Bourke that has adopted a whole of community approach to crime prevention.

The report also looks at the Cowra Justice Reinvestment Project. The author highlights some of the challenges for implementing justice reinvestment based on both the Australian context and international experience.

Dubbo Conversations reports a summary of conversations and observations in the New South Wales town of Dubbo to inform philanthropic funding by Dusseldorp Forum (DF) and Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF).

It examines both the high rates of youth recidivism as well as thriving young Aboriginal people, aiming to identify pathways in and out of custody. It highlights three programs that are working to assist young Aboriginal people in Dubbo who are at risk of entering or already engaged in the juvenile justice system and identifies areas such as service continuity and co-ordination that need improvement.

A Social Reinvestment approach in Western Australia is a Discussion Paper prepared for the Western Australia Partnership Forum, to examine issues prevalent in the Western Australian Justice system, including increasing incarceration rates and costs, higher crime, and the disproportionate rate of imprisonment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander persons.

It explores existing alternative approaches that have successfully combated these issues and what the use of what it calls a Social Reinvestment approach in Western Australia, which aligns closely with the aims and strategies of justice reinvestment. It outlines a Social Reinvestment Model as based on three complementary approaches:

  1. Healthy families
  2. Safe communities
  3. More effective use of the justice system

The paper has a particular focus on reducing youth and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander offending. It notes that that social and economic disadvantage is the main cause of offending and that those living in the most disadvantaged areas of Western Australia are eight times more likely to spend time in prison.

The paper is particularly critical of mandatory sentencing in Western Australia.

The Social Reinvestment WA Campaign overview booklet is calling for the development of a supportive and informed community, a cross party political commitment to justice and where Aboriginal people represent no more than 3 per cent of the prison population or their population equivalent.

The campaign overview sets out why social reinvestment is needed, its reform and policy targets and provides a comparative analysis of justice reinvestment projects around the world.  The overview is a suitable resource for others thinking about developing and implementing their own justice reinvestment policies.