Policy

pattern

Safe families and communities and equitable justice outcomes

I just hope that in the future our children can see through the eyes of children, and that we all live in this beautiful country together as human beings because there is one race and that is the human race.

- Aboriginal victim survivor of family violence

 

Aboriginal communities and services have long recognised the significant impact of family violence on Aboriginal families and have been at the forefront of family violence policy in Victoria. The Indigenous family violence 10 year plan, Strong Culture, Strong Peoples and Strong Families: Towards a safer future for Indigenous families and communities (2008–2018) established a policy direction for reducing the impact of family violence on Aboriginal families. The Victorian Government acknowledges the long-term leadership of Aboriginal communities in tackling and preventing family violence in Aboriginal communities.

The Royal Commission into Family Violence (RCFV) report, released in March 2016, highlighted the complexities of family violence within an Aboriginal community context, including factors such as gender, colonisation, discrimination and intergenerational trauma. It identified the need to secure sustainable resourcing for culturally safe and specialist support services working with Aboriginal survivors of family violence.

Ending Family Violence: Victoria’s Plan for Change is the Victorian Government’s response to the Royal Commission’s report. In seeking to achieve a Victoria free from family violence, it incorporates all of the Royal Commission’s 227 recommendations for family violence reform. These reforms build on the foundations of the work of the Indigenous Family Violence Partnership Forum (IFVPF).

Headline Indicator 9. Reduce the incidence of Aboriginal family violence

Other measure: The rate of family incident reports to police.

Family violence incidents have increased by 1.5 times for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alleged offenders.

Family violence incident reports have risen steeply during the last 10 years in Victoria; increasing by 163% from 1,392 in 2007–­08 to 3,655 in 2016–17 for incidents by Aboriginal alleged offenders. Increases in family violence incident reports may not necessarily indicate increased prevalence in family violence. Aboriginal women have historically and continue to face unique barriers to reporting family violence, particularly due to a very real fear of having their children removed by Child Protection Services. The concerted efforts of Victoria Police and the state’s justice system more broadly to better respond to family violence in the community may lead to increased reporting. Even so, the rise in family violence reporting has placed enormous pressure on Aboriginal specialist legal, housing and health services to provide culturally informed and safe responses and support.

Over the last 10 years, Aboriginal people accounted for 4% of reports made by affected family members and 5% of alleged offenders.

During the past 12 months (March 2016 to March 2017), 3,655 family violence incidents involved an Aboriginal alleged offender and 2,964 affected an Aboriginal family member. Even so, both counts are likely to underestimate the number of family violence incident reports involving Aboriginal people due to a high rate of unknown Aboriginal status in police reports and underreporting.

Family violence incidents show a very high rate of repeat offending and victimisation.

Aboriginal women and their children are particularly vulnerable. On measures of prevalence and severity of family violence, Aboriginal women are the most victimised cohort in Victoria. Aboriginal women are 45 times more likely to experience family violence and (nationally) 35 times more likely to be hospitalised than non-Aboriginal women due to family violence-related assaults. Aboriginal children are also disproportionately affected by family violence. Over 80% of Aboriginal children placed in out-of-home care had family violence as a primary or secondary causal factor. It is important to note that the perpetrators of family violence against Aboriginal women and their children are from all backgrounds.

Aboriginal women face the “double bind” of gender and racial discrimination and oppression.

- Antoinette Braybrook, CEO Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service

Number and proportion of family violence incident reports by an Aboriginal alleged offender

Policy directions

The IFVPF is the platform for government and Aboriginal communities to address family violence. Established in 2005, it continues to provide a vehicle for connecting Aboriginal community members to key decision makers across government.

The IFVPF, Aboriginal communities and Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) have continually advocated for adequate and ongoing funding for community-led, holistic and trauma-informed healing approaches and culturally safe specialist support services to address family violence experienced by Aboriginal communities. This fundamental requirement was also outlined in the RCFV report.

In response, the 2017/18 Victorian Budget allocated unprecedented funding for a range of initiatives targeting family violence reform for Aboriginal Victorians such as improved crisis accommodation, implementation of holistic healing approaches, and support for an Aboriginal-led response to family violence reform, as well as enhancing the approach to victim-centred justice for Aboriginal communities. Community-led and community-designed initiatives include Djirra, a women's place; Dilly Bag, a two-day personal development workshop for women; Young Luv, which is focused on promoting healthy relationships for young Aboriginal women between 13 and 18 years old; and a new Dardi Munwurro Strong Spirit residential program.

Sisters Day Out is a one-day workshop that engages with Aboriginal women, and in particular young Aboriginal women, for the purpose of preventing family violence by facilitating community networks to reduce social isolation; raising awareness of family violence and its underlying cause and impacts; and by providing information and tools to promote community safety.

The workshop provides a culturally welcoming and safe space for Aboriginal women to come together and participate in a range of activities including beauty therapies, relaxation therapies and exercise activities. These activities attract community participants and place an emphasis on self-care and well-being. Included within the workshop is an information session about family violence prevention presented by the Aboriginal Family Violence Prevention and Legal Service Victoria (FVPLS Victoria) staff.

FVPLS Victoria invites a range of local service providers to participate in the event. FVPLS Victoria lawyers are also available for any participant requiring advice, and a counsellor is also available for participants requiring a personal conversation about their circumstances.

 

The Victorian Government is also committed to ensuring the cultural competency and responsiveness of its workforce so that fewer family violence incidents go unreported. In response, 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.

Koori Family Violence Police Protocols aim to improve police response to family violence incidents in Aboriginal communities and ensure that appropriate referrals to family violence services are undertaken. Ongoing cultural awareness training is also provided to police. Koori Family Violence Police Protocols currently operate in Bairnsdale, Darebin, Mildura, Shepparton, Ballarat, Dandenong, Swan Hill and the Wimmera. Warrnambool will launch in October 2017 and Echuca and Morwell later in 2017–­18.

The Victoria Police Aboriginal Family Violence e-learning package has been designed to educate police about the impact of colonial history on Aboriginal people and how past trauma can relate to violence and police interactions today. Since its launch in May 2017, more than 5,700, police staff have completed this e-learning module.

 

Headline Indicator 10. Reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system

Youth

Target: Close the gap in the rate of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people under youth justice supervision.

I do think we need to have a think about the intersect between child protection, youth justice and adult incarceration, but also the historical context of intergenerational trauma, grief and poverty

- Wayne Muir, CEO Victorian Aboriginal Legal Services

Family violence, involvement with child protection and/or out-of-home care increase the likelihood of a child becoming involved with the justice system. These risks are greater for Aboriginal children, whose first interaction with the justice system may be as victims of violence or abuse. This concerning and intergenerational cycle of disadvantage and trauma is one of the most compelling reasons for prevention, early intervention and diversion for Aboriginal children and young people.

With each subsequent phase of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), the focus on prevention and early intervention has increased. Reducing the number of young people involved in the justice system is critical given the increasing numbers of Aboriginal children in child protection and residential care, and a rapidly growing Aboriginal youth population.

Other measure: The rate of over-representation of Aboriginal young people (10–­17 years) processed by police.

Since 2007–­08, the rate of unique youth offenders aged 10­–17 years processed by police (who receive a caution, arrest, summons or other outcome) has decreased; however, the decline has not been felt equally. While the Aboriginal unique youth offender rate fell by 24%, the non-Aboriginal rate fell by more than half (58%).

Other measure: The proportion of Aboriginal young people (aged 10–­17 years) cautioned when processed by police.

Police cautioning is typically available to first-time and non-serious offenders. Cautioning of first-time alleged offenders has increased, but the proportion of all youth alleged offenders receiving a caution or warning has decreased since 2007 for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal youth; and the gap between the two groups has narrowed. This trend is consistent with Crime Statistics Agency research, which found there is a relatively small cohort of young repeat offenders (Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal) with multiple offending incidents each year.

Proportion of youth offender incidents (10-17 years) receiving a caution or warning by police

Target: Close the gap in the rate of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people under youth justice supervision.

 

Aboriginal Youth is an area of concern, again about being held on remand as opposed to being bailed… I believe monitoring is far better than remand.

- Marion Hansen, Koori Caucus

Aboriginal youth are over-represented in the justice system by more than 13 times that of non-Aboriginal youth.

Victorian rates of Aboriginal young people (10–­17 years) under justice supervision are lower than the national rates for both community-based supervision and detention. However, Aboriginal young people are 13 times more likely than non-Aboriginal young people to be under justice supervision on an average day in Victoria. While it is difficult to discern a trend since 2007–08, the rate of Aboriginal young people in the justice system on an average day appears to have peaked in 2010–­11 and has since returned to rates observed in 2008–­09.

Young people (10-17 years) under youth justice supervision (community-based and detention) on an average day per 1,000

Policy directions

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody found social and economic disadvantage was a key contributor to the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system. The AJA was developed in partnership with the Aboriginal community in response to the Royal Commission recommendations.

The AJA, in its third phase, targets the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the Victorian criminal justice system to improve Aboriginal justice outcomes and increase the safety of Aboriginal families and communities. In the 17 years since the AJA was established, a diverse range of programs and services have been implemented, and continue. These include Koori Courts, Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers within Victoria Police, Wulgunggo Ngalu Learning Place, the Sherriff’s Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Local Justice Worker Program, Koori Women’s Diversion Program and community-based Koori Youth Justice programs. The AJA is delivered via a multi-layered structure of partnerships between the Victorian Government and the Aboriginal community, which includes:

  • the Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF)
  • the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) network
  • the Local Aboriginal Justice Action Committee (LAJAC) network

The Community-based Koori Youth Justice Program employs Koori Youth Justice Workers to support young Aboriginal people at risk of offending, as well as clients on community-based and custodial orders. The workers assist in providing access to appropriate role models, culturally sensitive support, advocacy and casework.

The Koori Early School Leavers and Youth Employment Program is designed to divert young people from the youth justice system by addressing key risk factors for young offenders, particularly lack of engagement with school or other learning and employment opportunities.

The Koori Intensive Support Program (KISP) works to reduce the number of young Aboriginal offenders who are detained prior to sentencing and provides intensive outreach support to assist young people to comply with bail conditions or conditions placed on deferred sentences. KISP also provides assistance to help Aboriginal young offenders reintegrate into their communities.

Children’s Koori Court Liaison Officers support Aboriginal children and young people who appear before the Children’s Koori Court and, in agreed locations, the Children’s Court. Their role is to encourage these Aboriginal children and young people to remain engaged with education and to broker their enrolment in a suitable education pathway.

In partnership with the AJF and Koori Caucus, the government is developing a Koori Youth Justice Strategy and establishing a stronger response to the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system.

 

The Goolum Goolum Deadly Bikes program supports at-risk youth to develop valuable skills in planning, teamwork and leadership, which increase their chances of getting a job. Participants are taught the basics of bike mechanics and as a team build and customise bikes, which are then donated back to the community. Through the program, participants are provided opportunities to re-engage in education and develop stronger connections with their local community. Developed as a justice diversion program in late 2015, the project engages 12–22-year-old young people identified as at risk of coming in contact with the justice system.

Goolum Goolum Deadly Bikes is a partnership program with Wimmera Hub and Horsham College, and is funded under the AJA’s Frontline Youth and Community Initiatives Program. Bikes are donated by the Wimmera Community, Lions Club and Victoria Police.

The Massive Murray Paddle is a week-long 404km marathon journey along the Murray River, starting in Yarrawonga and ending in Swan Hill, that enhances relationships and builds trust between Aboriginal youth and police. Over 80 young people and members of Victoria Police participated in the Dungulayin Mileka Team in 2016–­17.

 

It is really, really awesome… You see day-to-day in Ballarat the impact of when you have positive relationships with police officers… If anything happens in Ballarat the young people will call the police they know from the marathon, to get advice or for help… If that was run as a continuous thing, even if like a diversion thing, the kids who do it wouldn’t think of committing a crime in their wildest dreams.

- Dungulayin team member

Headline Indicator 10. Reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal people under justice supervision

Adults

Target: Close the gap in the rate of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people under adult justice supervision by 2031.

Aboriginal adults remain significantly over-represented in the justice system.

Aboriginal adults are over-represented in the justice system in Victoria by 11 times that of non-Aboriginal adults. This is lower than the national rate, and most other jurisdictions. The daily average number and rate of adults in the justice system (community-based and in prison) has increased for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal adults since 2007–­08, with most of the increase occurring over the past three years. The increase has been almost twice as large for Aboriginal adult offenders, with the daily average number of non-Aboriginal adults in the justice system increasing by 66% compared with 129% for the Aboriginal population.

Other measure: The proportion of Aboriginal adults receiving a prison sentence compared with those receiving a community corrections order.

Aboriginal people account for 8% of the prison population and 6.3% of the community corrections population in Victoria.

Despite making up less than 1% of Victoria's population, Aboriginal people account for 8% of the prison population and 6.3% of the community corrections population. The Aboriginal prison population has grown more rapidly than the Aboriginal population under community-based supervision, with Aboriginal women one of the fastest growing cohorts within Victoria’s prison population.

Proportion of offenders that are Aboriginal

I have concerns about the number of Aboriginal women on remand for up to 6–12 months. The impact that this has on the families is huge; nine times out of ten the children are placed in care and public housing is lost. It is very difficult to get the children out of care, it could literally take years.

- Marion Hansen, Koori Caucus

Policy directions

Aboriginal women are among the fastest growing prison cohorts both nationally and within Victoria. Imprisonment has a disproportionate impact on social outcomes for women and their families; hence cultural and gender-appropriate diversionary options are vital. Nationally, 80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women in prison are mothers. As a commitment under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement 3, the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission documented the experiences of Aboriginal women in the justice system. The report showed that even placing women in short-term remand can lead to serious disruptions to the family unit, with children at greater risk of being placed in the child protection system. The report also found there was a lack of initiatives to support Aboriginal women coming into contact with the justice system.

In response, the Koori Women’s Diversion Program was piloted in 2015–­16 to reduce Aboriginal women’s involvement with the justice system and the impacts of incarceration on their families. Now operating in Mildura and Morwell, and through Odyssey House Victoria, the program provides intensive case management and support for Aboriginal women referred from the Victorian criminal justice system. The program has shown positive outcomes including reduced offending, increased engagement with mental health services, and family reunification.

Headline Indicator 11. Reduce the proportion of Aboriginal people who return to prison within two years of release

Target: Close the gap in the proportion of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people who are convicted within two years of their previous conviction by 2031.

Once Aboriginal people enter the prison system, over half return within two years.

Aboriginal people are 1.3 times more likely to return to prison within two years of release than non-Aboriginal people in Victoria. In 2015–­16, more than half of Aboriginal prisoners (55%) released from prison in 2013–­14 had returned to prison under sentence, compared to 42% of non-Aboriginal prisoners.

Proportion of prisoners released who returned to prison under sentence within 2 years

Policy directions

Opportunities for Aboriginal people post-prison release are compounded by several factors including difficulty finding safe and affordable housing, accessing employment or education, and ensuring continuity of healthcare and other supports.

The Aboriginal Prisoner Transitional Housing Project aims to reduce reoffending and provide suitable housing for Aboriginal men and women exiting prison who are at risk of homelessness. This joint project between the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service, Aboriginal Housing Victoria, Corrections Victoria and the Department of Health and Human Services will improve the successful reintegration of Aboriginal people into the community post-release by providing stable, short-term accommodation as well as culturally appropriate services and support to address the multiple and complex needs of Aboriginal people exiting prison.

The Corrections Victoria Reintegration Pathway provides pre-release programs responsive to each prisoner’s transitional needs on entry to prison and throughout their prison sentence, as well as assisting with returning to the community. Re-Connect provides targeted and intensive reintegration and outreach services for Aboriginal men and women and high transitional need prisoners. It is designed to provide responsive, tailored and flexible post-release support.

The Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan is being implemented by Justice Health and Corrections Victoria across prisons and community corrections to provide a Continuity of Aboriginal Health Care Pilot, enhanced cultural safety and mental health assessment, and the Statewide Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program. As part of the plan, Kaka Wangity, Wangin-Mirrie grants support ACCOs to provide cultural strengthening, healing, family violence prevention and parenting programs for Aboriginal people in prison and community corrections. The Local Justice Worker Program funds ACCOs across Victoria to employ 20 local justice workers to support Aboriginal clients to complete Community Corrections Orders and resolve outstanding fines and warrants. Services were expanded in 2016–17 and the program now also focuses on addressing drivers of re-offending.