ACT government tenders for programs to help Indigenous prisoners

Indigenous young people in the ACT are 12 times more likely to be under supervision in the youth justice system than non-Indigenous youth, a report has revealed.

The latest national report from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare found that nearly a quarter (24 per cent) of the children in the ACT youth justice system are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Canberra's Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. Picture: Karleen Minney

Canberra's Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. Picture: Karleen Minney

This follows recent findings that within six months of release from prison, 24 per cent of Indigenous offenders return to custody, a rate more than double that of the rest of the population.

Equally damning of the youth justice system in the ACT is the report's finding that in 2017-18, almost three quarters (73 per cent) of all children in detention were unsentenced - either awaiting a court outcome, or found guilty and awaiting sentencing.

On an average day in the ACT, the report recorded 103 children over 10 and under 18 in the justice system, which is a 7 per cent increase from 2013-14. Most are supervised in the community while the remaining 15 per cent are in locked away in Bimberi.

The report arrives as the ACT government has opened tenders for four key community justice programs aimed at reducing the over-representation of Indigenous people in the territory's prison population and help ex-prisoners re-integrate with the community.

The ACT government will pay the successful tenderer $450,000 a year for three years to deliver four programs: Front Up, Circle Sentencing Court Support, Throughcare Support and Yarning Circles for Justice.

Three of the four programs up for tender are currently provided by the Canberra office of the Aboriginal Legal Service.

The Canberra-based Clybucca Dreaming, whose proprietor Tanya Keed has been working with Aboriginal women and children in crisis since 2003, is the current provider for the yarning circles for justice program.

The acting chief executive officer of the legal service, Janelle Clarke, confirmed the legal service would again be tendering.

"We have worked extremely hard, despite facing many challenges, to provide support services to Aboriginal people in the ACT region and we would like to continue our work with the ACT government to ensure we maintain these important programs," Ms Clarke said.

Front Up focuses on offenders with an outstanding warrant, who have breached bail, or who have a community-based sentence, and aims to find an outcome which avoids putting the offender behind bars.

Galambany circle sentencing is a mechanism by which Indigenous offenders must plead guilty and face the judgement of the community's elders.

The successful contractor would provide support for clients at each stage of the circle sentencing process, and comply with any requests from elders or the court.

Throughcare is a ACT post-prison support system set up in 2012 which aims to provide accommodation, health care, basic needs, income and community connections for up to 12 months.

The new contract offers support specific to Indigenous detainees who are leaving custody and entering the Throughcare program.

Yarning circles is a 26-week program which helps ex-prisoners re-establish links to Indigenous culture and community, restore relationships with friends and family, and acclimatise to and manage their lives outside the prison wire.

The four programs will be in addition to the Indigenous-specific Yarraby Bamirr - Ngunnawal for "walk tall" - a collaborative partnership between Winnunga's social health team and the government.

Under the Labor-Greens Parliamentary Agreement signed in 2016, there is a commitment to reduce recidivism across the ACT prison population by 25 per cent by 2025.