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 be involved with the criminal justice system. Those who are, however, are more likely to experience ongoing involvement. Systemic and structural barriers lead to Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system and entrenched cycles of disadvantage.
These barriers include inequality, racism, discrimination and unconscious bias, social and economic disadvantage and involvement with the child protection system. While the over-representation of Aboriginal people remains, community-led responses are going some way to address these underlying structural factors.
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
- 15.1.1 Number, rate and age profile of unique youth (10-17 years) alleged
- offenders processed by police.
- 15.1.2 Average daily number and rate of children and young people (10-17 years) under youth justice supervision in detention and community-based supervision.
- 15.1.3 Proportion of first-time youth alleged offenders (10-17 years) cautioned by police.
- 15.1.4 Proportion of young people (10-17 years) in detention on remand.
Aboriginal Victorians are over-represented in both the adult and youth justice systems. Contributing factors to this include a greater likelihood of Aboriginal people being charged with an offence after being detained and increases in remand-based detention. Broader system responses are needed to address the factors that contribute to interaction with and over‑representation in the justice system.
On average, Aboriginal young people are more likely to have contact with the police at a younger age than their non-Aboriginal peers. Between July 2007 to June 2020, the proportion of alleged youth offenders aged 10-17 was consistently higher for Aboriginal Victorians compared to non-Aboriginal Victorians.
In 2019-20, Aboriginal young people (10-17 years) were almost six times more likely to be processed by police as alleged offenders than their non-Aboriginal peers.
On an average day in 2018-19, there were 19 Aboriginal young people and 103 non-Aboriginal young people in detention. When looking at detention rates per 10,000 people, this means that Aboriginal young people were about ten times more likely to be detained than their non-Aboriginal peers. This has improved from the 2007-08 level, when the corresponding rate ratio was 17.7 times.
The proportion of both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal first-time alleged youth offenders receiving a caution from police declined significantly between 2007-08 and 2019-20. Cautions are an important diversionary response that can prevent further involvement in the justice system.
In 2019-20, around half (50.9%) of Aboriginal first-time alleged offenders aged 10-17 years received a caution from police. The figure was slightly higher for the non-Aboriginal cohort (55.1%).
In 2018-19, the proportion of young people (10-17 years) in detention on remand increased for both the Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal cohorts compared with results in 2007-08. In 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal young people in detention on remand (66.7%) was slightly lower than the proportion of non-Aboriginal young people (70.5%), a trend similar to 2007-08.
Victoria Police Aboriginal Youth Cautioning Program (AYCP)
Victoria Police hosted a series of workshops involving Aboriginal providers to progress the target under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja - The Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 4 of 43 fewer Aboriginal people in youth justice supervision on an average day. The workshops identified that current policy on the eligibility of a child to receive a caution requires the child to make an admission of guilt, thereby limiting the eligibility of those who may receive a caution.
The AYCP is piloting a holistic community approach to diverting Aboriginal young people, upon receiving a caution, from the justice system and into locally administered Aboriginal community programs. This pilot has been implemented in Bendigo, Dandenong and Echuca.
15.2 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal women in the justice system
- 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 two years of release.
- 15.2.4 Proportion of women in prison on remand.
Since 2007-08, the rate of unique adult female offenders processed by police has increased significantly for all women, with a larger increase for Aboriginal women. In 2019-20, Aboriginal women were nearly 11 times more likely than non-Aboriginal women to be processed by police for an alleged offence.
In 2018–19, the average daily rate of Aboriginal women under corrections supervision in community corrections was around 14 times higher than for non-Aboriginal women, and the rate for Aboriginal women in prison was almost 22 times higher than for non-Aboriginal women. These rates are an increase from those of 2007-08.
The rate of Aboriginal women returning to prison within 2 years of release grew significantly from 2007-08 to 2018-19, from around 38 per cent to 55%.
In recent years, a greater proportion of Aboriginal women in prison were placed on remand. In 2018–19, more than half the Aboriginal women in prison (58.4%) were on remand compared to around 45% of non-Aboriginal women in prison. This is a significant increase from the 2007-08 level for Aboriginal women (just over 13%). The proportion of non-Aboriginal women in prison on remand also increased but to a lesser extent.
Baggarrook Women’s Transitional Housing Program
In 2017, Corrections Victoria recorded that 17% of women on remand were Aboriginal. One major obstacle for Aboriginal people, particularly Aboriginal women, being granted bail is access to safe and stable housing. Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service’s (VALS) Baggarrook program (Program) is funded by the Department of Justice and Community Safety.
The program is culturally safe and designed to support highly vulnerable Aboriginal women as they transition from prison, recognising the significant and complex needs of these women. The program’s integrated support model involves housing support, provision of care packages, and ongoing support from justice workers and other allied professionals. Within the first year of the program, VALS was able to expand the program to support non-cisgender women.
15.3 Decrease the number and eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal men in the justice system
- 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 two years of release.
- 15.3.4 Proportion of men in prison on remand.
In 2019-20, as in previous years, Aboriginal men were over-represented as alleged offenders, processed by police at around 6 times the rate of non-Aboriginal men.
Between 2007-08 and 2018-19, the average daily number of Aboriginal men under both community-based supervision and in prison significantly increased, more than doubling for community-based supervision and tripling in prison. In 2018-19, Aboriginal men were around 14 times more likely to be under corrections supervision in prison and nearly 10 times more likely to be on community-based supervision, when compared with non-Aboriginal men.
The proportion of Aboriginal men returning to prison under sentence within two years of release has not changed significantly in the last decade. Over the same time, the proportion of non-Aboriginal men returning to prison under sentence within two years of release has increased, from 34.9% to 43.4%. The rate of return for Aboriginal men continues to be higher than that for non-Aboriginal men (in 2018-19, 51.9% of Aboriginal men returned to prison under sentence within two years of release compared to 43.4% of non-Aboriginal men).
Similar to the young people and female cohorts, the increasing rates of incarceration of Aboriginal men is partly driven by a higher proportion of offenders being held on remand. From 2007-08 to 2018-19, the proportion of Aboriginal men on remand in prison nearly doubled. While there has also been an increase in the proportion of non-Aboriginal men in prison who are on remand, higher proportions of Aboriginal men continue to be held on remand in prison when compared with non-Aboriginal men.
Goal 16: Aboriginal Victorian have access to safe and effective justice services
16.1 Increase Aboriginal Victorians’ participation in culturally safe and effective justice prevention, early intervention, diversion and support programs
- 16.1.1 Number and proportion of Aboriginal youth receiving intensive bail support through the Koorie Intensive Support Program.
- 16.1.2 Number and proportion of Aboriginal adults receiving intensive bail support.
- 16.1.3 Number of Aboriginal young people accessing community support programs through youth justice community services.
In 2019-20, 81 Aboriginal young people received intensive support through the Koorie Intensive Support Program, a decrease from 111 in 2018-19. Of these young people, 11 (or 13.6%) received intensive bail support in 2019-20, a decrease from 27 (or 24.3%) in the previous year. One of the potential reasons behind this reduction stems from lower overall numbers entering the Youth Justice system, particularly during the second half of the 2019-20 financial year. In addition, being a relatively new data measure, it is difficult to ascertain the extent of any ‘natural’ variation that might have impacted year-on-year movement.
In 2019-20, 234 Aboriginal adults (18 years and above) received intensive bail support through the Court Integrated Services Program (CISP), which represents 50.8 per cent of Aboriginal adults referred.
It is to be noted that the average acceptance rate onto CISP is 50 per cent across all programs. There are a number of reasons why an individual may not have been accepted onto CISP including:
- nature of offence
- recommended for community referral
- declined to participate
- denied bail and therefore not accepted onto the program as part of bail condition.
In 2019-20, 502 Aboriginal children and young people (10-17 years) participated in Aboriginal community support programs. This includes all Aboriginal specific programs funded by DJCS. It is to be noted that DJCS commenced collecting data for this measure from 2020.
Goal 17: Aboriginal Victorian feel safe and connected
17.1 Increase community safety and trust in police and the justice system
- 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.
Aboriginal Victorians continue to face structural barriers including racism, discrimination and unconscious bias. Ensuring that the police and corrections workforces have Aboriginal representation and that all staff complete cultural awareness training is an important part of improving justice outcomes.
As at 30 June 2020, 15.5% of police officers had received Aboriginal cultural awareness training. This is an increase from nine per cent at the same time the previous year.
Since 2007-08, the number of Aboriginal people employed across the justice system has increased significantly. Due to these increases, the proportion of Aboriginal people employed across DJCS and Court Services Victoria now exceeds the Victorian public sector target of 2% by 2022.
Preventing Aboriginal deaths in custody
2021 marks the 30-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). The Commission found while Aboriginal people died in custody at similar rates to non-Aboriginal people, they were far more likely to be in prison than non-Aboriginal people. Racism and social, economic and other systemic inequalities were the most significant factors contributing to Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system.
Since its release in 1991, Victoria has taken action to implement responses to RCIADIC recommendations. While the Department of Justice and Community Safety has undertaken a broad range of actions under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement and related reforms, there were 3 Aboriginal deaths in prison custody between July 2018 and June 2020.
Although the Coroner determined that the cause of death was natural for all three cases, this has highlighted that more work needs to be done to ensure our justice system is safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal people.
To this end, the Victorian Government continues to work with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus to identify reform opportunities that address Aboriginal over-representation in custody and implement the remaining RCIADIC recommendations in a way that meets the intent of the recommendations. Aboriginal leadership in overseeing the implementation of RCIADIC remains critical.
Action the Victorian Government is taking
The Aboriginal Justice Agreement, or AJA, is a formal partnership between the Aboriginal community and the Victorian Government to improve justice outcomes by addressing over-representation in the justice system and improving family and community safety.
The AJA was established in 2000 as a response to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The fourth phase of AJA – Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, launched in August 2018, is an inter-generational plan to close the gap in Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal justice outcomes by 2031.
In partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus, the Victorian Government is currently progressing an extensive range of actions under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja to improve justice outcomes for Aboriginal people. Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja is supported through a $40.3 million investment over five years to improve outcomes for Aboriginal Victorians in contact with the justice system.
Key investments across 2020 include:
$40.2 million in crisis accommodation and specialist services for people experiencing or at risk of family violence. The package includes targeted funding for ACCOs to meet additional demand for family violence case management and crisis support.
$670,000 to support Aboriginal specific family violence services to adapt service delivery in response to the impacts of coronavirus including out of hours phone support services.
Combined Victorian Government funding of $402,000 and Commonwealth funding of $475,000 to VALS and Djirra to enhance IT capacity, ensuring service continuity and compliance with the Chief Health Officer’s direction during the pandemic.
$1 million Building Works Package grants to support ACCOs to upgrade community facilities and assist with economic stimulus.
Ongoing support for community-based justice programs totaling over $16 million including:
- local Justice Worker Programs in 20 ACCOS around Victoria
- culturally appropriate family violence legal services through VALS and Djirra
- development of Aboriginal led family centred, restorative justice, and collaborative impact program models
- family violence prevention programs for women and young people
- men’s behaviour change and healing programs
- redevelopment of Baroona Youth Healing service as an alternative to remand for young people
- three community-based diversion programs for young people
- Aboriginal Community Justice Panels in 15 metropolitan and regional areas
- Koori Women’s Diversion Programs in four locations
- Koori Night Patrols in two regional areas
- independent policy and secretariat support to the Aboriginal Justice Caucus.
Key actions across 2020 include
Youth Justice Act
DJCS is developing the Youth Justice Act, in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus and the Aboriginal Youth Justice Act Working Group, which consists of members of the Caucus and other Aboriginal community organisations. The Caucus made several legislative reform proposals that were considered by government for inclusion in the Youth Justice Act. In response, the following measures will be considered for the Youth Justice Act:
- new principles to guide all acts, decisions made and exercise of power under the legislation that impact Aboriginal children and young people, including promoting the right of Aboriginal Victorians to self-determination and supporting an Aboriginal-led Youth Justice system
- a statement of recognition that Aboriginal children and young people are
- over-represented in the Youth Justice system, and that inequality and structural racism are key drivers of this over-representation
- new obligations for the Secretary in DJCS in relation to self-determination, including requiring the Secretary to develop strategic partnerships with Aboriginal communities and to enable the progressive transfer of authority, resources and responsibilities to an Aboriginal-controlled justice system.
Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy
The Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy (Strategy) is being developed in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Caucus (Caucus) in line with the principles of self-determination enshrined in Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja. Caucus has identified five key domains in the Aboriginal Youth Justice Strategy critical to addressing over-representation and furthering self-determination to progress their vision for an end-to-end Aboriginal community-controlled youth justice system, including:
- work toward an Aboriginal-led justice response
- empower young people and community to uphold change
- protect cultural rights and increase cultural safety in the current justice system
- address intergenerational trauma and support healing
- reduce over representation and provide alternatives to custody.
Koori Youth Justice Taskforce
The Koori Youth Justice Taskforce focused on a strengths-based approach to understand how to address the systemic issues contributing to the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system. The Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) conducted a parallel inquiry: Our Youth Our Way into the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system. A combined Taskforce and Inquiry report was tabled in Parliament by CCYP on 9 May 2021.
Establishment of a new Youth Justice Budget Paper 3 (BP3) target
In 2020-21, the Minister for Youth Justice set a new BP3 target in the 2021/22 Victorian Budget to further reduce the number of Aboriginal children in custody on an average day. The target aims for there to be between 14 to 18 Aboriginal children aged 10-17 years in detention on any average day. DJCS has been working in partnership with the Aboriginal Justice Forum and communities to achieve this target.
Implementation of Community Corrections Service initiatives – Moving towards an Aboriginal community-controlled Community Corrections
Under Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja, DJCS is considering opportunities to move towards greater Aboriginal community control in community corrections and build and strengthen the compliance of Aboriginal adults on community-based orders.
Continuity of Health Care Pilot Program
The Continuity of Aboriginal Health Care (CoC) pilot is an initiative under the Aboriginal Social and Emotional Wellbeing Plan (ASEWP) and a commitment under the AJA4. The program comprises 2 components: in-reach services within the prison health clinic and out-reach follow-up on release from prison. The aim of the program is to create stronger links between prison and community health services, increase prisoner engagement in the management of their health needs, and encourage continued health engagement on release into the community.
Decriminalising public drunkenness and implementing an alternative public health response
In December the Summary Offences Amendment (Decriminalisation of Public Drunkenness) Bill 2020 was introduced to Parliament. As a first stage of the reform, the Bill will repeal the public drunkenness offences in the Summary Offences Act 1966 with an effective commencement date of November 2022.
DJCS is working with DHHS on the next implementation stage of the reforms so that by the time decriminalisation takes effect a well-designed, collaborative and culturally safe public health model will be in place across the state. This includes working closely with the community – including the Aboriginal community and other key stakeholders – to design and implement the public health model and deliver these important reforms.
Establishing a Legislated Spent Convictions Scheme
The Spent Convictions Bill 2020 (the Bill) was introduced into Parliament on 27 October 2020. The Bill implements the government response to recommendations by the Legal and Social Issues Committee’s report, Inquiry into a Legislated Spent Convictions Scheme.
The Bill provides for an application process where serious offences can be spent after application to the Magistrates’ Court. When hearing an application, among other factors, the Magistrate can take into account the unique systemic and background factors affecting Aboriginal people. This includes specific factors relating to incarceration of Aboriginal people, and the impacts of disclosure of a criminal record for Aboriginal people.
Early intervention and rehabilitation to divert children from the criminal justice system
The Victorian Government is focusing on early intervention and rehabilitation to help reduce youth crime and reoffending and is actively working to divert children from the criminal justice system.
The government’s Youth Justice Strategic Plan 2020-2030 released in May 2020 commits to age appropriate responses for 10 to 14 year olds to keep them out of the youth justice system. DJCS is reviewing existing alternative non-justice responses for 10 to 14 year olds with the aim to analyse and understand how this cohort could be dealt with outside the justice system.
Reviewed 30 June 2021