‘Do recent Aboriginal justice initiatives in
Australia facilitate healing for Aboriginal people
and communities?’
History of Aboriginal people & justice
Aboriginal offending & victimisation data
Aboriginal crime risk factors
Understanding ‘healing’
Circle Sentencing – does it support healing?
Police ‘acted as the most
consistent point of Aboriginal
contact with colonial power’
(Cunneen 2001:49).
Bourke 1980s – 1 to 142 citizens
(Carrington 1990)
Wilcannia 1980s/90s – 1 to to 77 citizens
(RCIADIC 1992)
NSW average – 1 to 432 citizens
(Carrington 1990)
 ‘Aboriginal
people in Australia are
among the most imprisoned
people in the world’
 (Blagg
During 2008-09 Indigenous Australians aged
10 and over were 7.5 times more likely than
non-Indigenous Australians to be charged by
police (ABS 2010).
During 2007-08 Indigenous young people
aged 10 to 17 were more than 20 times more
likely to be in detention and 14 times more
likely to be under community based
supervision than non-Indigenous peers
(AIHW 2009).
AIC - Indigenous Australians 15 to 20 times
more likely than non-Indigenous people to
commit violent offences (Wundersitz 2010:iii).
NSW Aboriginal people five times more likely
to be convicted for murder or robbery, three
times more likely to be convicted for sexual
assault or child sexual assault and six times
more likely to be implicated in assault (DV or
other) and motor vehicle theft.( Fitzgerald &
Weatherburn 2001)
BOCSAR - NSW Aboriginal females four times
more likely to be a victim of murder or assault
(DV or other), more than twice as likely to be a
victim of sexual assault (adult or child) and seven
times more likely to experience grievous bodily
harm than a non-Aboriginal female.
BOCSAR - in cases where a victim of violence in
NSW was Aboriginal, the offender was also
Aboriginal in four of seven murders, 73% of
sexual assaults, 72% of child sexual assaults, 85%
of domestic assaults, 80% of assaults and 86% of
assault occasioning grievous bodily harm
(Fitzgerald and Weatherburn 2001).
Gender, age, alcohol (Weatherburn et al 2008;
Wundersitz 2010)
Child abuse, neglect, mental health,
psychological stress, welfare dependence
(Weatherburn et al 2008;Wundersitz 2010)
Member of Stolen Generations (Homel et al
1999; Zubrick et al 2005; Dodson & Hunter
2006; Weatherburn et al 2008)
The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women’s
Taskforce on Violence Report (ATSIWTFV 2000) identifies a
link between intergenerational trauma and violence and
recommended support for localised healing programs
The Victorian Indigenous Family Violence Taskforce Report
The West Australian Aboriginal Child Health Survey
(2003) identified grief and trauma, drug abuse,
institutionalisation and child removal polices as
contributing to family violence. It recommends support for
holistic healing.
(Zubrick et al 2004) found the intergenerational effects of
child removal included emotional and behavioural
problems, overuse of alcohol and an increased risk of
being arrested.
The Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce
attributed high rates of child sexual abuse to trauma,
grief and loss stemming from colonisation,
dispossession and child removal policies and related
subsequent substance abuse, disadvantage and
exposure to violence. The report identifies a need for
healing.’ (ACSAT 2006)
The Northern Territory Board of Inquiry into the
Protection of Aboriginal Children From Sexual Abuse
report ‘Little Children Are Sacred’ suggests
communities should be supported to design
responses that improve emotional and mental
wellbeing. (2007)
An essential element of Indigenous healing is
recognising the interconnections between,
and effects of, violence, social and economic
disadvantage, racism and dispossession from
land and culture on Indigenous peoples,
families and communities.”
(ATSISJC 2004:57).
‘a spiritual process that includes
addictions recovery, therapeutic
change and cultural renewal’
(ATSIHFDT 2009:4).
‘healing is holistic and involves
physical, social, emotional, mental,
environmental and spiritual wellbeing’
(ATSIHFDT 2009:11).
Maari Ma Community Safety Research Project
Muramali program – Stolen Generations
Rekindling the Spirit - spiritual, emotional,
sexual and physical healing
Red Dust Healing – healing effects of
colonisation on mental, physical and spiritual
wellbeing of Indigenous families
South Australia – Nunga court
NSW – Circle Sentencing
Victoria – Koori Court
QLD – Murri Court
WA – Aboriginal Community Courts
Options for adult offenders who plead or are
found guilty in local court
Eligible cases referred by Magistrate
Aboriginal Community Justice Group assess
Circle convened with Magistrate, Elders,
victim, offender, police and others- Elders
recommend sentence
To include members of Aboriginal
communities in the sentencing process
To increase the confidence of Aboriginal
communities in the sentencing process
To reduce barriers between Aboriginal
communities and the courts
To provide more appropriate sentencing
options for Aboriginal offenders
To provide effective support to victims of
offences by Aboriginal offenders
To provide for the greater participation of
Aboriginal offenders and their victims in the
sentencing process
To increase the awareness of Aboriginal
offenders of the consequences of their
offences on their victims and the Aboriginal
communities to which they belong
To reduce recidivism in Aboriginal
‘Circle Sentencing has no effect on the
frequency, timing or seriousness of
The program was not designed to ‘change the
characteristics of offenders that are
associated with their criminal activity’- seeks
to reduce re-offending by ‘giving Aboriginal
people direct involvement in the sentencing
of Aboriginal offenders’.
(Fitzgerald 2008)
‘Victims indicated that Circle Sentencing
potentially plays a role in empowerment,
healing and reconciliatory processes of
forgiveness’ (CIRCA 2008:47).
‘In normal court you don’t know what’s going
on. Your lawyer stands up and the Magistrate
deals with them and when they finish talking
you get taken outside and told what the
decision was and what would happen next’
(CIRCA 2008:38).
‘I was honest out of respect for the Elders and
they were faces that I knew’ (CIRCA 2008:38).
‘Now a lot of Elders are watching out for their
people and offenders are aware that the
Elders are watching over them’ (CIRCA
‘If it strengthens the informal social
controls that exist in Aboriginal
communities, Circle Sentencing may
have a crime prevention value that
cannot be quantified through
immediate changes in the risk of
reoffending for individuals’ (Fitzgerald
‘I keep my word to the Elder and I still keep it
to this day. Because I live in town with my
aunties, I show respect to them, I owe them.
When at Local Court I never saw the
magistrate except in court, but I see my
aunties every day. I can’t muck up because I
will lose respect. You get a fella that’s been
to jail over and over, he’ll just say stick it to
you. But with your aunt, you put your head
down to say sorry for what I’ve done’ (CIRCA
‘Restoring Aboriginal communities is a
long-term process which requires a
holistic approach. It involves addressing
injustices, promoting healing by
breaking cycles of dysfunction and
reconnecting Aboriginal people to their
(Cox, Young & Bairnsfather-Scott 2009).
‘Unless non-criminogenic needs such
as grief, depression, spiritual healing,
loss of culture and educational deficits
are addressed, it may be impossible to
address needs directly related to
criminal offending’
(Gilbert & Wilson 2009:4).
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