Access to Justice

Children and young people have access to justice and grow up in empowered and supportive communities

The action needed

Divert young people from the criminal justice system

Adopt a justice reinvestment approach to end the overrepresentation of young Aboriginal people in prison, that:

  • Redirects funding away from the expansion of prison infrastructure and into initiatives that strengthen communities and address the underlying causes of offending;
  • Allocates diverted funds to three new community-led justice reinvestment initiatives across NSW; and
  • Establishes an independent NSW justice reinvestment body overseen by a board with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership.

Invest more in keeping young people out of the justice system with targeted diversionary programs. Diversionary programs run by Aboriginal controlled organisations in urban, regional and remote NSW should be prioritised.

Slash recidivism rates

Ensure universal access to culturally appropriate post-release programs which focus on continuity of support for young people (up to 25 years). All young Aboriginal people should have access to Aboriginal-led programs that focus on re-establishing their connections to country, community and culture.

Ensure Aboriginal people have culturally appropriate legal assistance

Significantly increase funding for community-based legal assistance services, particularly Aboriginal Legal Services and Aboriginal controlled community legal centres.

WATCH: A collaborative impact approach to justice reinvestment in Bourke has seen corporate, community and justice stakeholders working together to better address the needs of young people in the region. In a short time, this community-centred program has already had a notable impact on youth incarceration and recidivism.

“Go out and listen to your young people.

Because they’ll tell you what they want. And they’ll tell you what they need.”

Kristy Kennedy
Former Backbone Co-ordinator, Maranguka, Bourke

Why it is needed

No child should grow up thinking that imprisonment is a way of life. Every child and young person deserves to mature in a safe and supportive environment that helps them realise and reach their full potential. Imprisoning children places limits on their potential and causes lifelong psychological harm. Imprisoning children should only be seen as a method of last resort.
“The only way to get people out of the criminal justice system is to have an alternative that’s healing, that’s not punitive. You have to give people dignity and everything about the criminal justice system takes that away.
The criminal justice system damages people – it damages women, children, men, entire communities.”
Vicki Roach, Writer, Yuin woman www.changetherecord.org.au

Photo: Mahala Strohfelt / Change the Record

In NSW, Aboriginal children are 21 times more likely to be detained than non-Aboriginal children, making prison a way of life for many young people.

Communities right across the state tell us that our current law and order policies are not effective at reducing crime rates, and children are better able to overcome their challenges and succeed in life when they are supported within their community.

Our Aboriginal communities are vibrant and diverse, with strong connections to culture, community and country. Empowering these communities, and particularly Aboriginal young people is key to addressing the challenges they continue to experience in health, education, employment and the justice system.

Imprisoning children and young people not only comes at a cost to the life of the child and their community, it also has a significant financial cost to us all. In NSW, it costs the government $1,344 each day to keep a child in prison, which is a total of $490,8171 a year.

We know there are better solutions to reducing crime rates than building more prisons.

We need to divert funding away from the expansion of prison infrastructure and into evidence based early intervention and prevention programs that are place-based and community-led. Aboriginal communities that are strong in culture and in their community hold the solutions to help young people reach their full potential.

We call on the incoming government to be bold and make NSW the first state in Australia to commit to a Justice Reinvestment approach to juvenile justice by funding three additional justice reinvestment initiatives across NSW. To promote the reinvestment of resources from prisons to community-led, place-based initiatives, and to provide expertise on the implementation of justice reinvestment, we support Just Reinvest’s recommendation to establish an independent NSW justice reinvestment body overseen by a board with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership.

Aboriginal Legal Services and Aboriginal Controlled Community Legal Centres continue to be chronically underfunded. This is despite the overrepresentation of Aboriginal people, men, women and children, in the justice system. Aboriginal communities have told us that they are not receiving the right level of support. Specialist Aboriginal women’s legal services are particularly stretched and require adequate funding to help their clients work through criminal and civil legal issues. Sadly, about 80% of Aboriginal women in prison have been victims of violence. A high percentage of these women are faced with a range of civil law needs, including child protection issues.

“The number of these women are faced with a range of civil law needs and child protection is one of the most significant issues impacting on them, particularly whilst in prison.

Investing in families is crucial to facilitate this change in relation to the numbers of kids going into out-of-home care.

This is something that the Aboriginal community has been saying for some time, however it seems to fall on deaf ears.”

Christine Robinson
Coordinator, Wirringa Baiya Aboriginal Women’s Legal Centre

It costs the Government

$ 0
a day to keep a child in prison, a total of
$ 0
a year
Funding culturally appropriate legal services does not just ensure Aboriginal people have culturally appropriate legal representation, and therefore access to justice, but they also support vulnerable families to stay connected and reduces the number of children in out-of-home care.
  1. Australian Government Productivity Commission, Report on Government Services 2018, Table 17A.21.
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