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aboriginalvictoria.vic.gov.au

Justice and safety

Our shared commitment: 

Aboriginal people have access to an equitable justice system that is shaped by self-determination, and protects and upholds their human, civil, legal and cultural rights. 

Most Aboriginal people will never become involved in the criminal justice system. However, those who do are more likely to experience ongoing involvement with the system. Systemic and structural barriers that Aboriginal people experience, such as racism, social and economic disadvantage and involvement in the child protection system, can lead to over-representation in the justice system and entrenched cycles of disadvantage. 

Goal 15: Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system is eliminated 

15.1 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the justice system

Measures:

  • 15.1.2 Average daily number and rate of children and young people (10-17 years) under youth justice supervision in detention and the community
  • 15.1.3 Proportion of first-time youth alleged offenders (10-17 years) cautioned by police
  • 15.1.4 Proportion of youth (10-17 years) in detention on remand

Most Aboriginal young people will never have any engagement with police. Furthermore, only a small proportion of Aboriginal young people who come into contact with police progress to formal involvement with the courts and youth justice system.

While the number of Aboriginal young people in detention in Victoria remains small, the proportion of Aboriginal young people in detention has increased.

On an average day in 2017-18, there were 20 Aboriginal young people and 109 non-Aboriginal young people in detention. The proportion of Aboriginal young people on remand in detention has also increased from 50.0% in 2007-08 to 55.0% in 2017-18.

Increases in youth detention rates are also driven by an increase in remand-based detention. Aboriginal young people in 2018 were less likely than they were in 2008 to be cautioned and are more likely to be held in remand or receive detention-based sentences.

Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Aboriginal young people processed by police as unique alleged offenders decreased by 31.5%. On average, Aboriginal young people are more likely to come into contact with police at a younger age than their non-Aboriginal peers. Between 2008 and 2018, the proportion of alleged youth offenders aged 10-14 was consistently higher for Aboriginal Victorians compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians. In 2018, 43.0% of unique youth alleged offenders who identified as Aboriginal were aged 10-14 compared to 27.8% of non-Aboriginal unique youth alleged offenders.

Of those who do commit offences, most commit low-level crime and grow out of this behaviour. However, entrenched contact with the justice system remains an ongoing concern for Aboriginal young people due to the multitude of systemic inequalities and structural barriers faced by Aboriginal Victorians.

The proportion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal first-time youth offenders receiving a caution from police has declined significantly between 2008 and 2018. Cautions are an important diversionary response that can prevent further involvement in the justice system.

Koori Youth Crime Prevention Grants

Koori Youth Crime Prevention Grants support local Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in 25 locations around Victoria to deliver a range of community-based programs. These programs aim to build protective factors in Aboriginal young people to reduce the risk of negative contact with the criminal justice system, and include Elder mentoring, breaking down barriers between young people and Victoria Police, cultural and family strengthening and employment readiness.

Victoria Police Aboriginal Youth Cautioning Program (AYCP)

The AYCP is a 5-year program, funded under the Community Safety Statement, to increase and enhance the use of cautioning and diversion options to intervene early and address the issue of over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the criminal justice system.

Due to commence in Bendigo, Echuca and Dandenong, the program uses a community-led, co-designed model of practice and implementation strategies agreed to by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus.

Working with community to embed self-determination will ensure contemporary best practice in Aboriginal youth cautioning. This includes resources developed to enhance the cultural awareness and capability of local police to support the implementation of the AYCP, and critical baseline criteria and governance processes to support program monitoring and an evaluation framework to measure progress. An evidence base on the effectiveness of restorative justice approaches and police-community partnerships will inform future direction.

15.2 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal women in the justice system

Measures:

  • 15.2.1 Number and rate of unique adult female alleged offenders processed by police
  • 15.2.2 Average daily number and rate of Aboriginal women under corrections supervision in prison and community corrections
  • 15.2.3 Proportion of women who return to prison under sentence within 2 years of release
  • 15.2.4 Proportion of women in prison on remand

Aboriginal women are among the fastest growing prison cohorts in Victoria. Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Aboriginal women in contact with the justice system has increased substantially. This coincided with an approximately 70% increase in the number of Aboriginal women processed by police as unique alleged offenders.

Between 2007-08 and 2017-18, the number of Aboriginal women under community-based supervision almost tripled (an increase of approximately 186%) and the number of Aboriginal women in prison more than quadrupled (an increase of approximately 333%).

While Aboriginal women represent a relatively small cohort in the justice system, they remain significantly and increasingly over-represented. On an average day in 2017-18, Aboriginal women accounted for approximately 1 in 8 female prisoners.

Increasing rates of incarceration are partly being driven by a higher proportion of Aboriginal women held on remand. On an average day in 2017-18, remand accounted for almost half of Aboriginal women in prison and around 40% of non-Aboriginal women in prison. In contrast, over the same time period, the proportion of Aboriginal women who returned to prison within 2 years of release has decreased slightly.

Imprisonment has a disproportionate impact on social outcomes for women and their families. This highlights the importance of cultural and gender appropriate diversionary support options, vital to ensuring that rates of recidivism among Aboriginal women continue their downward trend.

Koori Women’s Diversion Program

The Koori Women’s Diversion Program aims to reduce Aboriginal women’s involvement with the criminal justice system by providing intensive and holistic case management. This includes practical support to ensure women are connected to the services they need, supported to get to appointments, and reconnected to culture as a source of therapeutic strength, healing and self-esteem.

During 2018-19, the Koori Women’s Diversion Program supported more than 70 Aboriginal women. Outcomes for women in the program vary according to their needs but include accessing stable accommodation, receiving treatment for physical and mental health issues, ceasing alcohol and drug use, re-engaging with children and extended family, receiving support to exit violent relationships, reconnecting with culture and community, and no further contact with the justice system.

15.3 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal men in the justice system

Measures:

  • 15.3.1 Number and rate of unique adult male alleged offenders processed by police
  • 15.3.2 Average daily number and rate of Aboriginal men under corrections supervision in prison and community corrections
  • 15.3.3 Proportion of men who return to prison under sentence within 2 years of release
  • 15.3.4 Proportion of men in prison on remand

The number and rate of Aboriginal men in the Victorian justice system continues to increase.

Between 2008 and 2018, the number of Aboriginal men in contact with Victorian Police increased by around 62% and the number of Aboriginal men under community-based supervision or in prison more than doubled (an increase of approximately 183% and approximately 160%, respectively).

In 2018, Aboriginal men were over-represented as alleged offenders processed by police at around 7 times the rate of non-Aboriginal Victorians. Furthermore, on an average day in 2017-18, Aboriginal men made up approximately 1 in every 12 men in prison.

Similar to the youth and women’s cohorts, the increasing rates of incarceration of Aboriginal men is partly driven by a higher proportion of offenders being held on remand. On an average day in 2017-18, unsentenced (remanded) prisoners accounted for 38.0% of Aboriginal men and approximately 31% of non-Aboriginal men in prison.

While rates of recidivism vary considerably year to year, in 2017-18 over half of Aboriginal male offenders re-entered prison under sentence within 2 years of release.

Dardi Munwurro Journeys Program

The Journeys Program was developed by Dardi Munwurro to engage and empower young Aboriginal men with the aim of diverting them from contact with the criminal justice system. The program builds on protective factors, such as community and cultural connection, through ongoing relationships with positive role models and mentoring relationships with Elders.

Key elements of the program include:  

  • intake and assessment to build trust with the young person and their family  
  • an intensive 3-day camp to focus on healing, self-esteem, cultural knowledge, connection to Country and community and taking responsibility  
  • fortnightly group sessions that focus on skills development, education, role modelling, behavioural change, anger management, healthy relationships, healthy lifestyles, emotional intelligence, managing emotions, sexual health, and conflict management  
  • supported transition and program exit

A recent evaluation found the Journeys Program was achieving a range of positive outcomes for participants including increased cultural knowledge and pride in their Aboriginality, increased connection to community, reduced anti-social behaviour, re-engagement with education, increased self-esteem and confidence, increased connections to support services, healthier relationships and healthy lifestyle choices.

Goal 16: Aboriginal Victorian have access to safe and effective justice services

16.1 Increase Aboriginal participation in culturally-safe and effective prevention, early intervention, diversion and support programs

Measures:

  • 16.1.1 Number and proportion of Aboriginal youth receiving intensive bail support through the Koori Intensive Support Program Measure
  • 16.1.2 Number and proportion of Aboriginal adults receiving intensive bail support Measure
  • 16.1.3 Number of Aboriginal youth accessing community support programs through youth justice community services

Culturally-appropriate prevention, early intervention, diversion and support services are critical to addressing Aboriginal over-representation in the criminal justice system and helping to break cycles of offending.

In particular, community-based and community-led services can connect Aboriginal Victorians to culture and promote positive outcomes.

In 2017-18, 373 Aboriginal Victorians received intensive bail support through the Courts Integrated Services Program. Due to current limitations, there is a lack of available data to report on the proportion of Aboriginal adults receiving intensive bail support. Processes are being established for reporting from 2020.

Young offenders are not just the perpetrators of crime. They also represent a highly traumatised population, and trauma-informed care has become a pillar of the youth justice response.

In 2017-18, 29 Aboriginal young people (aged 10-17) received intensive bail support through the Koori Intensive Support Program in Victoria, representing 59% of all Aboriginal young people released on bail in the same period. Providing intensive bail support to Aboriginal young people is one way to reduce cycles of re-offending.

Due to current limitations in government data collection processes, there is a lack of available data to measure the number of Aboriginal youth accessing community support programs through youth justice community services (measure 16.1.3). Reporting on these measures is due to commence in 2020.

Koorie Community-based Youth Justice Program

There are 23 Aboriginal Youth Justice Workers based in 13 Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and 1 not-for-profit organisations throughout Victoria. These workers provide preventative, early intervention and case management services for Aboriginal children and young people at risk of Youth Justice involvement or subject to a Youth Justice Order.

The program provides a range of community-based supports, including one-to-one support, and culturally-based activities that keep Aboriginal children and young people connected and strong in their culture and communities.

Goal 17: Aboriginal Victorian feel safe and connected

17.1 Increase community safety and trust in police and the justice system

Measures:

  • 17.1.1 Proportion of police officers who have received Aboriginal cultural awareness training
  • 17.1.4 Number and proportion of Aboriginal people employed across the justice system

The Victorian Government is committed to increasing cultural competence across the justice system, including the police force, so that Aboriginal Victorians feel safer in their communities.

Victoria Police will continue to support learning, training and resources through the roll-out of the Koori Family Violence Police Protocols and other cultural training packages.

Increasing Aboriginal staffing within the police force is another important mechanism for strengthening cultural competency of Victoria’s police. The number of Aboriginal Victorians employed with Victoria Police has increased 13-fold from just 7 Aboriginal staff in 2008-09 to 98 Aboriginal staff in 2018-19. As of June 2019, Aboriginal staff represent 0.5% of all Victoria Police staff.

The number of Aboriginal Victorians employed with the Department of Justice and Community Safety (DJCS) has grown by 580% from just 30 Aboriginal staff in 2007-08 to 204 Aboriginal staff in 2018-19. As of June 2019, Aboriginal staff represent 2.0% of all DJCS staff. In September 2019, 47 Aboriginal staff were employed with Court Services Victoria - representing 2.1% of all staff. This is a marginal increase from 39 staff in October 2017 (2.0%).

Developing a culturally-aware police force

Victoria Police Recruits, including Protective Services Officers, all receive Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training during Week 1 and Week 4 at the Police Academy. Between 1 July 2018 and 30 June 2019, 1,241 Police Recruits and 176 Protective Service Officers undertook the training.

In addition, a review of the existing Victoria Police Aboriginal Cultural Awareness Training Package identified opportunities to enhance training to uplift the capability of frontline members to effectively engage with Aboriginal Victorians to improve policing outcomes.

Victoria Police engaged an Aboriginal Educator to review the training against Victorian Aboriginal historical and contemporary issues, and to capture and explore the role of police in past policies and practices in an effort to break down barriers and strengthen police and Aboriginal community relationships. This includes working in partnership with Aboriginal communities to enhance culturally-competent policing responses.

The refreshed training was delivered to Police Aboriginal Liaison Officers across 10 locations in May and June 2019, with 153 members undertaking the new training.

A Train the Trainer session has been planned to enhance the confidence and competence of the Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers to deliver the training ongoing. A training code will enable Victoria Police to monitor the number of police officers who undertake the training from 2020.

Measures:

  • 17.1.2 Proportion who feel safe/very safe walking alone at night in local area Measure
  • 17.1.3 Proportion who have experienced any violence in the last 12 months

The Victorian Government is also committed to making the justice system more responsive to reduce the incidence of Aboriginal Victorians as victims of crime. It is critical that we build up trust in the justice system so that Aboriginal Victorians feel protected by this system. Historical injustices have meant there is mistrust amongst some Aboriginal communities in reporting crime and accessing victim support.

Approximately 3 in 5 Aboriginal Victorians reported feeling safe walking alone in their local area after dark in 2014-15. This may indicate that families and communities provide a strong sense of safety for Aboriginal Victorians.

However, around 1 in 5 Aboriginal Victorians had experienced physical or threatened violence in the previous 12 months in 2014-16. This is approximately 5 times the rate reported by non-Aboriginal Victorians.

This highlights the importance of ensuring current government initiatives, such as the Community Safety Statement 2019-20, are culturally-responsive to the needs of Aboriginal Victorians to ensure all Victorians feel safe in their home and in their community.

Action the Victorian Government is taking

The Victorian Government is driving action to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal Victorians in the justice system and ensure an equitable justice system that is providing better justice outcomes for Aboriginal people, their families and communities.

The vision for Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja - The Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4 is for Aboriginal people to have access to a justice system that is shaped by self-determination, and protects and upholds their human, civil, legal and cultural rights.

Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja also prioritises action that will help build Aboriginal Victorians’ trust in the justice system and ensure the Victorian justice system is safe and effective for Aboriginal Victorians.

A range of initiatives support these aims, including Victoria Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers, Aboriginal Victims Assistance Support Workers, Koori Courts, Aboriginal Case Managers in Community Corrections, Aboriginal Wellbeing Officers in prisons, and Aboriginal Liaison Officers in Youth Justice Centres. Other action includes a pilot service model to deliver a culturally-specific restorative justice response for Aboriginal young people, and consistent cultural support planning for young Aboriginal people involved with both child protection and youth justice systems.

The Aboriginal Justice Caucus has been critical in strengthening partnerships between the Aboriginal community and the Victorian Government to drive effective and self-determining change under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja.

Action is also underway to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal women and men in the justice system. Key actions include the Koori Women’s Place - a culturally-safe space where women facing the challenges of family violence can come together and feel supported, heard and understood - the Koori Women’s Diversion Program, and the construction of 6 transitional housing units for Aboriginal women that will accommodate those at risk of homelessness when exiting prison.

In addition, the Victorian Government supports Ngarra Jarranounith, a residential healing and behavioural change program for men who have used or are at risk of using violence, as well as the Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place, a residential program supporting Aboriginal men to complete Community Corrections Orders.

The Yawal Mugadjina Cultural Mentoring Program also commenced in 2018-19. Yawal provides culturally-tailored mentorship to Aboriginal people exiting prison to support their transition and reintegration back into their communities. The program provides participants with cultural support from Elders and Respected Persons in prison, and ongoing community support upon release through the Local Justice Worker Program.

Additional Victorian Government action includes a strong focus on reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the justice system, primarily through an Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy, which is in the early stages of development. This will be developed in partnership with Aboriginal stakeholders, including young people, to ensure that connection with culture, family, Elders and communities is recognised as the foundation for young Aboriginal people to thrive and reduce their involvement with the youth justice system.

Other actions include the new Koori Youth Justice Taskforce, being led by the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, which will identify opportunities to improve cultural responsiveness and reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system, as well as the Maggolee Mang Program in Parkville and Malmsbury designed to support young Aboriginal people to maintain connection to culture and community while in custody.

Reviewed 03 January 2020

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