As people continue to march across the US in support of George Floyd and the Black Lives Matter movement, Australians must also reflect on the injustices happening every single day here at home.
That includes right here in the ACT.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are disproportionately represented across the ACT's justice system, and make up too much of our local prison population. This is often compounded by social and economic issues, combined with the effects of intergenerational trauma, disenfranchisement, colonisation and structural racism.
This trend is broadly reflected around Australia, and across much of our justice system. Across the country, while crime rates are going down, incarceration rates are going up. A growing population, together with more awareness around domestic, family and sexual assault, are part of the story. More effective policing, reduced rates of bail, and social issues like unemployment, poverty and family trauma, particularly among young offenders, also have an impact.
As imprisonment rates rise, the challenges of housing growing rates of detainees are only going to increase, and the Greens don't believe we can - in good conscience - maintain the status quo.
Other Australian jurisdictions are responding to this challenge by simply spending millions more building more prisons.
That's where justice reinvestment comes in.
This is the first time an Australian jurisdiction is reinvesting funds that could otherwise be used to build bigger prisons every five years.
At its heart, justice reinvestment means being honest about the reality of incarceration in Australia. We cannot keep building larger and larger prisons in the hope that this will simply deal with the issue of rising imprisonment rates - or "solve" systemic disadvantage. We know we must do things differently if we want a different outcome.
Justice reinvestment seeks to make the ACT a community that arrests vulnerability, not just individuals; one that addresses the causes of offending. It looks to reduce crime and make communities safer by redirecting money away from prisons into stronger, more supportive communities. It believes that prevention and early intervention is better than cure, and that imprisonment usually proves to be a temporary solution to the root causes of criminal behaviour.
The work in the ACT to realise the principles of justice reinvestment for those coming in and out of the prison system marks some of the most ambitious justice work under way in Australia. This is the first time an Australian jurisdiction is reinvesting funds that could otherwise be used to build bigger prisons every five years - instead funding evidence-based programs focused on crime prevention and addressing the actual causes of criminal behaviour.
In the ACT, as part of our Parliamentary Agreement, we have committed to an ambitious target of reducing recidivism (reoffending rates) by 25 per cent by 2025. Meeting this target will be a challenge - to think differently about how we address our use of imprisonment as a punitive measure, and how this can be done in a safe and supportive way for our community.
Already, we have fully funded Yarrabi Bamirr - a truly co-designed model of on-the-ground justice reinvestment, in partnership with Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health and Community Service, the Aboriginal Legal Service and the Women's Legal Centre ACT. We have also funded new Indigenous Liaison Officers within the Victims of Crime Commission, expanded circle sentencing options for juvenile offenders, and introduced a new model of offering Winnunga's Aboriginal health services as a healthcare provider in the prison.
While community rehabilitation efforts are important steps in the right direction, we cannot stop there.
With the right support in place, including the right cultural supports, we can help change the trajectories of those coming in and out of the prison system.
This kind of approach can also show broader benefits for local communities. In times of challenge, stress and pressure, community resilience is vital to reduce conflict and promote social coherence. Justice reinvestment lends itself to this resilience, by empowering local communities and grassroots agencies with the tools to enact local solutions. Nowhere is this more important than when government seeks to work with local Indigenous communities.
Justice reinvestment gives us hope that there can be a better way. If we are ever to address the unjust overrepresentation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in our jails, we have to do things differently, because what has been done in the past has simply not worked.
- Shane Rattenbury MLA is the ACT Minister for Justice and Corrections and the leader of the ACT Greens.