Some Identified Best Practice
Community Justice Groups
The NSW Department of Attorney General has identified the success of NSW CJGs, an initiative which has been progressively expanded across the State. (1) This success is said to be due, in part, to the groups being based within Indigenous communities themselves, and on their ability to respond so effectively to justice issues. (2) Cunneen notes that whilst CJGS are able, potentially, to work with police to issue cautions, to establish diversionary options, to support offenders, to assist in access to bail, to provide assistance to courts, and to develop crime prevention plans, they require adequate resourcing, operational guidelines and/or a legislative base to their work might also be required. (3)
This initiative, introduced in Nowra in 2002, has been identified as effective and positively evaluated. (4) Cunneen notes that the benefits of circle sentencing, generally, may include:-information to inform sentencing includes detail about whole community, offenders' background, and impact of offence upon victim; community input into sentencing promotes sharing of responsibility and increases potential for workable solutions (including dealing with broader issues and solutions than those within the criminal justice system); the community is involved in outcome of sentence, as they determine and implement it, so the offender is supported, in this sense; and it allows a merger of Indigenous and non-Indigenous culture. (5)
In ensuring effectiveness, however, it is important to consider issues such as adequate resourcing; integration of such an initiative with other Aboriginal-run or supported programs; and development of guidelines (Cunneen 2002). The success of the circle sentencing process has been reflected in roll-out of circle sentencing courts across the State.
Karrka Kirnti Aboriginal Women's Program
The Karrka Kirnti Aboriginal Women's Program, a cultural camp for staff and female inmates operated by Corrective Services in Brewarrina and Picton, is an effective initiative, according to the Department (DCS (NSW) 2003). The program involves taking Aboriginal female offenders and staff to camp, and engaging participants in cultural learning (including through sessions presented by local Elders). Maurer also notes that it has been successful in reducing re-offending rates, and increasing cultural knowledge for all participants. (6)
Yindyama La (Dubbo), Rekindling the Spirit (Lismore and Tabulam) and Walking Together
The Yindyama La program at Dubbo targets Aboriginal male perpetrators of family violence. The program was developed in partnership with the Dubbo Aboriginal community and is based on the Aboriginal Healing and Responsibility Cycles. Yindyama La provides perpetrators with an opportunity to overcome issues of colonisation which are linked to violence, to take responsibility for their violent behaviour and to acquire the necessary skills to change their behaviour. The program is comprised of 16 sessions and is facilitated by DCS staff, and Aboriginal Elders and knowledge holders. As at February 2008, 129 Aboriginal men had been referred to the program with 41 men having graduated.
Funding also provides for DCS managed community-based offenders from Lismore and Tabulam to participate in the Rekindling the Spirit program. Rekindling the Spirit assists family violence perpetrators to take responsibility for their offending and provides an opportunity for behaviour change. The program includes one-to-one counselling and support, group work and referral to specialist mainstream services. Rekindling the Spirit also provides a range of support services for Aboriginal families who are victims of violence. The program expanded during 2004 to 2008 with the development of a parallel program for female perpetrators and their families, which is now successfully established. As at February 2008, 233 Aboriginal male offenders and 38 Aboriginal female offenders had been referred to the program. The Department of Attorney General has indicated that this initiative is very effective, and highlighted the fact that it is training Indigenous men to run family violence groups. (7)
The Walking Together Program is for Aboriginal community-based offenders managed by DCS with family violence issues. A parallel program for Aboriginal women and a new format for the male program were developed from October 2005. The programs address substance abuse and family violence, anger management and issues relating to past victimisation, and employment issues. Both the male and female Walking Together programs are comprised of ten, one-day sessions; a field trip; and a cultural camp. The programs are facilitated by Aboriginal Elders and knowledge-holders from the inner-city communities, as well as Aboriginal Probation and Parole staff. Mainstream and Aboriginal agencies and organisations are also involved, to promote access and ongoing support for offenders. From October 2005 to February 2008, 101 men have graduated from the men's program and 51 women have graduated from the women's program.
4. See NSW Department of Attorney General's Annual Reports 2005/06; 2006/07; Potas, I, Smart, J., & Brignell, G., & NSW AJAC, (2004) ‘Circle Sentencing in New South Wales: A Review and Evaluation', Australian Indigenous Law Reporter 16; Dick D, (2006) 'Circle Sentencing of Aboriginal Offenders' Paper presented to the 'Sentencing: Principles, Perspectives and Possibilities' conference, Canberra, 10-12 February 2006, http://law.anu.edu.au/nissl/Dick.pdf ; and Lavelle, K., (2004) ‘Circle sentencing breaks cycle', Law Society Journal (Law Society of NSW), 42(8); 19-21.
5. Cunneen, C., (2002) NSW Aboriginal Justice Plan - Discussion Paper, Aboriginal Justice Advisory Council (NSW), Sydney, and see Department of Corrective Services (NSW), (2003) Aboriginal Offenders Strategic Plan 2003-2005, Department of Corrective Services, Sydney