Monday 18 July 2022, 5:00pm
The Aboriginal Legal Service has welcomed the NSW Government’s investment of $20 million to expand the Youth Koori Court, circle sentencing programs, and justice reinvestment initiatives, saying this is a positive step towards closing the gap.
Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) Limited (ALS), says these initiatives are proven to be effective.
“Prisons only cause harm and trauma, but we have alternatives that actually work. The Youth Koori Court and the Circle Sentencing Program not only keep Aboriginal people in community rather than in prisons, but they open up access to counselling and services that address the underlying causes of offending,” Ms Warner said.
“These processes allow Aboriginal people and communities to participate in sentencing decisions, which in turn helps to address the well-founded distrust that many Aboriginal people have in the criminal legal system.”
Ms Warner also welcomed the announcement of new justice reinvestment pilots, following the success of the justice reinvestment program in Bourke led by local Aboriginal organisation Maranguka.
“As a community, how we invest our resources reflects our values. If we spend all our money on prisons, we just get more recidivism, crime, family separation and trauma. But if we invest in things like mental health services, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, housing and youth centres, we get healthier, safer communities,” Ms Warner added.
This year’s evaluation of the Youth Koori Court by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) found that participating children are 40% less likely to be jailed than those who go through ordinary sentencing courts, without any adverse impact on re-offending. A 2020 evaluation of the Circle Sentencing Program (for adults) found its participants are less likely to be imprisoned and reoffend.
Ms Warner said the ALS looks forward to working with the NSW Government to ensure the newly announced initiatives are effective.
“We are pleased to receive funding enabling our participation in the new Dubbo Youth Koori Court, but we are yet to be informed of resourcing to enable ALS participation in the eight new circle sentencing locations,” Ms Warner said.
“It is critical that ALS specialist lawyers and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are available for Aboriginal people participating in these programs.”
Ms Warner also expressed hope that the NSW Government will continue working with the ALS on further initiatives to reduce Aboriginal over-representation in custody and create a fairer, more equitable legal system.
“There are so many promising opportunities in the Closing the Gap process to work together as Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and Government, ensuring that we transform the justice system to be fairer for everyone.
“Our Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are best placed to deliver the services that will ensure Aboriginal people are strong in community and in culture.”
Media contact: Alyssa Robinson - [email protected] - 0427 346 017