The ACT Government has announced it will invest $1.35 million over three years to address Canberra’s Indigenous incarceration rates, helping initiate four diverse programs to support offenders, detainees and ex-detainees.
ACT Justice Minister Shane Rattenbury said the government will work alongside Tjillari Justice Aboriginal Corporation, Yeddung Mara and the Aboriginal Legal Service to deliver a suite of “culturally appropriate” programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people comprise 1.9 per cent of Canberra’s population but 22 per cent of the ACT’s prison population, which Mr Rattenbury described as a “terrible over-representation”.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately represented across the justice system, which is often compounded by social-economic issues, combined with the effects of intergenerational trauma, disenfranchisement, colonisation and structural racism,” Mr Rattenbury said.
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“These programs are designed to address that and encourage Aboriginal organisations to step into the justice space, help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are involved in the justice system and ideally help reduce Indigenous incarceration here in the territory.”
The programs will help people face court with proper representation, help former inmates adjust to life after being incarcerated, and provide support by finding appropriate housing and employment.
Yeddung Mara will provide the Throughcare Support program in the ACT. Throughcare Support is a client-centred program designed to help people adjust back into the community after they have been released from custody, assisting with housing, health and employment.
Yarning Circles for Justice is a series of 26-week programs that use co-designed activities to support ex-detainees in a group setting to stay in the community and rebuild their lives, rather than return to prison.
The Circle Sentencing Court Support program will provide support to those with matters before the Galambany Circle Sentencing Court, while the Front Up program will help people meet their bail conditions and assist people who have an outstanding warrant, have breached bail or breached a community-based sentence to present to court.
Mr Rattenbury said they often find that people don’t understand their bail conditions and end up breaching through a misunderstanding rather than a deliberate act, with the program designed to change that.
But at the heart of all four programs, Mr Rattenbury said he wants to make the ACT a community that addresses the root causes of offending.
“With the right supports in place, we can help change the trajectories of those coming in and out of the prison system,” Mr Rattenbury said.
“Only by listening to, and working collaboratively together with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities can we comprehensively address the troubling over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.”