• Indigenous children were 24 times more likely to be detained that non-Indigenous children in 2016 (NITV)Source: NITV
As the rate of Indigenous incarceration in Australia continues to climb, new research shows Aboriginal prisoners are struggling to access rehabilitation programs in jail. Dr Clarke Jones says these programs need to be increased across the entire country.
Laura Morelli

24 Aug 2016 - 4:53 PM  UPDATED 24 Aug 2016 - 4:53 PM

NITV: You are about to release a report on rehabilitation programs for indigenous prisoners from across the country. What should we be expecting to see in this report?

CJ: We looked at the effectiveness, accessibility to and appropriateness of rehabilitation programs in prisons across Australia. We didn’t get much love from the corrections Australia group. We did get plenty from some jurisdictions, but some wouldn’t. We initially contacted the Corrections Services Administration Group and their advisory group. IAJA also approached them. We initially approached them with the size and scope of our study but continually received negative feedback from them, and although we received good support from other jurisdictions we couldn’t go with it if we weren’t getting anything from the main group it would have been rude to have gone around them, so that limited the amount of primary research we could gather. However there were several Non Governmental Organisations that were happy to help us, so we did receive some good primary evidence from them. And that was primary in the sense that it came from dealings with Indigenous offenders. Research naturally is never easy, but there was plenty of secondary data.

We see this report though as a beginning point not an end point in the discussion of the serious numbers of Indigenous offenders that have been incarcerated across Australia. It should be said that Victoria has the highest numbers of those being rehabilitated, but WA has the largest amount of indigenous prisoners to their population. But when we see what has happened at Don Dale, we are seeing the end result of how poorly indigenous offenders are being treated. And this treatment leads to dysfunction, so we need to increase our rehabilitation programs badly across the country.

NITV: What do you think is causing the Indigenous prison population to rise so much?

CJ: There is significant dysfunction, but actually significant disadvantage too, and we are seeing this as well with other minorities. When you have disadvantage such as unemployment, health problems and historic problems further problems leading to incarceration are bound to come out. The conclusion we see is that programs designed to be a part of justice reinvestment need to address this disadvantage. Take young Indigenous people for example, many go into prison for a short time, but because of this they don’t qualify for the rehabilitation programs, so there is no rehabilitation for them. Its worth noting that WA and the NT do have kids programs, but in the scope of this report we didn’t include them as we were looking at adult prisoners.

NITV: Why is it that Indigenous prisoners seem to be missing out on rehabilitation programs? Is this common? Would prisoners of other backgrounds be missing out on these programs as well?

CJ: We are seeing more Indigenous people missing out on these programs certainly as many don’t qualify or meet the criteria for the rehabilitation programs. Most go into generic programs but the evidence is that this simply doesn’t work properly. A simple example was a youth who doesn’t have a licence getting fined over and over for not having a licence and then being jailed for fine evasion. This kid went into 3 months of rehabilitation programs and then was finally released, where as all that was actually needed overall was to give this youth a licence. If he had had that he would have avoided prison time for minor offences. So there needs to be more programs that are either right for Indigenous prisoners or at least something that is culturally appropriate. And this is something that Victoria does well. But we need to helping young offenders to also want to buy into these programs. They need to buy into them for them to be successful and so that they can have trust in this program, if this can happen then more people will complete these programs thereby rehabilitating them.

NITV: Are there enough culturally appropriate programs in Australia’s prison systems?

CJ: There are too few programs overall if you want a basic snapshot. It’s the same for other minorities such as Muslim offenders. Each minority group has struggles in prison if there aren’t enough culturally appropriate programs. But in moderate comparison rates the lack of culturally appropriate programs that are available for Indigenous people pales in comparison to say what is available to Muslim offenders. Don’t get me wrong I'm not comparing the two overall, but in comparison to numbers that are in prison, there are way less programs for Indigenous people to help with their rehabilitation.

Dr Clarke Jones: Fellow, School of Regulation and Global Governance, ANU, Co-Director, The Australian Intervention Support Hub (AISH), Co-author of the report commissioned by AIJA Efficacy, accessibility and adequacy of prison rehabilitation programs for Indigenous offenders

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