Research briefs

Conducting Research with Indigenous people and Communities

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Dr Judy Putt

This brief provides an overview of innovative and exemplary research approaches and practice undertaken with and by Indigenous communities that is relevant to crime and justice research.  The brief covers research practice and context, ethical frameworks and review processes, practical constraints and challenges, and promising practice. Where appropriate, examples are drawn from other countries, most notably New Zealand and Canada.

Research on strong Indigenous communities

RB/CIP Number: 1
Date: 01 Apr 2007
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Ruth Lawrence

The first brief examines strong Indigenous communities. This brief describes the variation in Indigenous crime rates among communities and describes what we know about safe communities that have low rates of assault and property violence. The Brief describes what Australian research is available and suggests further research in this area based on innovative international research.

Bail support in Australia

RB/CIP Number: 2
Date: 01 Apr 2008
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Gabrielle Denning-Cotter

This Brief examines programs that are designed to assist a person to successfully complete their bail period. From a review of the Australian and international literature, principles of best practice are presented and current bail support programs for adults and juveniles in Australia are outlined. It was found that there are very few Indigenous specific bail support programs.

Sex offender treatment programs : effectiveness of prison and community based programs in Australia and New Zealand

RB/CIP Number: 3
Date: 01 Apr 2008
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Sarah Macgregor

This Brief examines whether programs designed to treat sex offenders in Australia and New Zealand are effective in reducing sexual recidivism. The review of the evaluation findings indicates that the vast majority of programs are effective in reducing sexual recidivism. Further evaluation work is needed in the Australian context including examination of the effectiveness of programs for Indigenous sex offenders.

Staying strong on the outside: improving the post-release experience of Indigenous young adults

RB/CIP Number: 4
Date: 01 Feb 2009
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Robyn Gilbert and Anna Wilson

The rate of imprisonment of Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand continues to be unacceptably high. Indigenous people are more likely to return to prison than are non-Indigenous people. How can young Indigenous adults be assisted to make a successful transition from prison to the community? What public services and community supports have been shown to contribute to a successful transition?

Indigenous Sentencing Courts

RB/CIP Number: 5
Date: 01 Dec 2009
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Elena Marchetti

This brief focuses on Indigenous sentencing courts, which operate in all Australian states and territories except Tasmania. These courts have been established according to protocols and practices, and can be distinguished from more informal practices that occur in remote areas where judicial officers travel on circuit. The first court was established in Port Adelaide on 1 June 1999. Indigenous sentencing courts do not practise or adopt Indigenous customary laws. Rather, they use Australian criminal laws and procedures to sentence Indigenous offenders who have either pleaded guilty or been found guilty, but they allow Indigenous Elders and Respected Persons to participate in the process, thereby creating a more culturally appropriate forum for sentencing Indigenous offenders (Auty 2004).

Identifying the risks for Indigenous violent victimisation

RB/CIP Number: 6
Date: 01 Dec 2009
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Colleen Bryant

It is not a new observation that Indigenous people in Australia experience violence at a higher rate than the general population. The impact of violence on Indigenous people and their communities has been widely documented by government and non-government inquiries, reports and commentaries. As in all populations, some individuals, families and communities are more likely to be victims of violence than others. Identifying who is at risk, and the circumstances that increase those risks, is important for the implementation of targeted preventative strategies, such as night patrols and family counselling, and other services, including hospitals and child protection. This paper summarises the demographic and social factors associated with being a victim of violence.

Sentencing Indigenous offenders

RB/CIP Number: 7
Date: 01 Mar 2010
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Thalia Anthony

When sentencing Indigenous offenders, courts in Australia and New Zealand do their work in the knowledge that the rates of Indigenous imprisonment are much higher than the rates for the community as a whole. This brief seeks to provide an evidence base for the development of law and policy by highlighting some key issues concerning the sentencing of Indigenous offenders. It first outlines the statutory frameworks that are in place in Australia and New Zealand. Second, it discusses the development of common law principles relating to the sentencing of Indigenous offenders, focusing on the relevance of Indigenous status and Indigenous laws (often called customary law) and cultural practices. Finally, it reports on the results of statistical studies of sentencing of Indigenous offenders.

Indicators used internationally to measure Indigenous justice outcomes

RB/CIP Number: 8
Date: 02 Aug 2010
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Matthew Willis

The social disadvantages faced by Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand, across dimensions that include community safety and the justice system, have been well documented. The extent of Indigenous disadvantage and the complexities of overcoming it have led to the development of a range of indicators against which the effectiveness of efforts to reduce disadvantage can be measured. This paper aims to contribute to the further development of justice indicators by reporting on approaches used internationally.

Understanding and preventing Indigenous offending

RB/CIP Number: 9
Date: 12 Jan 2009
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Dr Troy Allard

Indigenous over-representation is the most significant social justice and public policy issue for the Australian and New Zealand criminal justice systems. Closing the gap on Indigenous overrepresentation has been identified as a priority and promoted through the National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework and Reducing Offending by M?ori Project (SCAG 2009; Yeboah 2000).

Promising interventions for reducing Indigenous juvenile offending

RB/CIP Number: 10
Date: 01 Mar 2011
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Kelly Richards, Lisa Rosevear and Robyn Gilbert

Indigenous juveniles are over-represented at all stages of the criminal justice system, and their over-representation becomes more pronounced at the most severe end of the system (ie in detention). Recent figures show that Indigenous juveniles are 24 times as likely to be detained in a juvenile correctional facility as non-Indigenous juveniles (Richards & Lyneham 2010).

Working with Indigenous offenders to end violence

RB/CIP Number: 11
Date: 01 Jun 2011
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Anna Macklin and Robyn Gilbert

This research brief examines literature from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom and reports on the effectiveness of programs aimed at reducing violent reoffending.

Communities Working to Reduce Family Violence

RB/CIP Number: 12
Date: 01 Jun 2012
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Kyllie Cripps and Megan Davis

This brief outlines some of the promising efforts to reduce Indigenous family violence in Australia and internationally, including both government and community initiatives, as well as support mechanisms and measures for victims.

Place-Based Initiatives and Indigenous Justice

RB/CIP Number: 13
Date: 01 Jun 2012
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Robyn Gilbert

Over the past decade, Australian governments have implemented a number of place-based initiatives in Indigenous communities, which attempt deep changes in the local operation of government agencies and their relationships with communities and each other.This brief considers the effectiveness of these initiatives.

Sentencing of Indigenous Women

RB/CIP Number: 14
Date: 01 Nov 2012
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Dr Lorana Bartels

Indigenous women remain overrepresented among defendants before courts and in prison populations, while being underrepresented on community corrections orders. Data and literature on the patterns and practices of sentencing of Indigenous women offenders in Australia are examined in this brief along with examples of custodial and non-custodial sentencing options and promising examples of programs seeking to address the specific needs of Indigenous women. Developments in Canada and New Zealand, where Indigenous women are likewise overrepresented in the criminal justice system, are also examined.

Alcohol management plans and related alcohol reforms

RB/CIP Number: 16
Date: 01 Oct 2013
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Kristen Smith, Marcia Langton, Peter d’Abbs, Robin Room, Richard Chenhall & Alyson Brown

This brief provides an analysis of Alcohol Management Plans (AMPs); a relatively new instrument joining the extensive range of regulations relating to alcohol supply and consumption. AMPs vary in design and implementation across Australia, and include strategies designed to reduce harms resulting from alcohol misuse. The authors chart the background and development of these instruments in Australia, as well as providing a comparison to international alcohol supply and control reforms. The authors find that evaluations in the public domain are limited. These evaluations appear to indicate that where AMPs are locally driven and owned, there are stronger and more sustainable outcomes. There is a good evidence base for the individual components that make up an AMP. Success has been achieved through alcohol restrictions, and both harm and demand reduction strategies have an evidence base as targeted interventions. The authors conclude that as more AMPs are implemented across Australia, there is a greater need for further research to better understand the process of implementation and how communities can work together with governments to design, implement and evaluate AMPs.

Indigenous-specific court initiatives to support Indigenous defendants, victims and witnesses

RB/CIP Number: 17
Date: 01 Apr 2015
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Lorana Bartels

This brief highlights some current initiatives in operation in Australian courts which seek to make the court process more responsive to the needs of Indigenous participants, along with some examples from New Zealand and Canada. Further sources of support, for example Aboriginal legal and victim support services and judicial education, including judicial benchbooks, are also considered, along with issues around language and communication. While it is acknowledged that most of the initiatives described have not been formally evaluated, some initiatives have been identified as examples of good or promising practice which can provide lessons for policy makers.

The implementation of Indigenous crime and justice policies and programs in Australia: issues and challenge

RB/CIP Number: 18
Date: 01 Apr 2015
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Judy Putt and Jessica Yamaguchi

This brief considers issues to do with implementation of policies and programs, and identifies strategies or frameworks that can be adopted to improve the implementation of Indigenous crime and justice policies and programs. It provides an overview of key polices and strategies being implemented in Australia that aim to address Indigenous crime and justice issues, and examines four specific key initiatives to highlight the kinds of issues encountered: the Northern Territory Emergency Response; night or community patrols; Aboriginal sentencing courts; and men’s behaviour change programs.  The theoretical and practical factors are brought together in a framework which can be used to evaluate and increase successful implementation across a range of programs.

Australian Indigenous Women's Offending Patterns

RB/CIP Number: 19
Date: 01 Jun 2015
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Peta MacGillivray and Eileen Baldry

IJC Research Brief 19 provides new insights into Indigenous women’s offending by examining previously unpublished police and court data for the period 2010-2012. While there are differences across the selected Australian jurisdictions, the authors find that the offences that most often appeared in charges, court proceedings and convictions were driving and traffic offences, assault, theft offences and offences against justice procedures. In all the jurisdictions examined, assault along with vehicle and driving offences were the top or second most serious offences with which Indigenous women were charged or proceeded against to court. The paper supports the conclusions of IJC Research Brief 14 that in some jurisdictions Indigenous women are imprisoned on more minor offences including public order offences than their non-Indigenous peers. The paper suggests that programs should aim to prevent Indigenous girls and women from becoming enmeshed in low level offending such as less serious driving offences and shoplifting.

Addressing the offending-related needs of non-violent Indigenous offenders

RB/CIP Number: 20
Date: 01 Sep 2015
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Kelly Richards

This brief examines the effectiveness of measures that aim to reduce non-violent offending by Indigenous people in Australia, New Zealand, Canada and the USA. Drawing on the literature available, the brief identifies examples and principles for program development and delivery that have shown potential to reduce Indigenous non-violent offending. The brief suggests that, in general terms, incorporating Indigenous culture(s) into treatment, combining cultural content with Western treatment approaches, incorporating families and communities into treatment, addressing substance abuse and trauma, and addressing the broader historical and social context in which Indigenous offending occurs, are promising approaches to reducing re-offending.

Justice Reinvestment

RB/CIP Number: 21
Date: 03 Jul 2017
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Melanie Schwartz; Emeritus Prof. David Brown; Prof. Chris Cunneen; The Australian Justice Reinvestment Project was funded by the Australian Research Council, at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).

This research brief examines the concept of Justice Reinvestment as it was developed and is currently understood in Australia, the United States of America, the United Kingdom and New Zealand. It highlights examples of Justice Reinvestment frameworks and programs which have been implemented in selected jurisdictions, and the views of policy makers and the community views about the benefits of adopting Justice Reinvestment measures to reduce crime and Indigenous overrepresentation in the criminal justice system.

Indigenous People, Mental Health, Cognitive Disability and the Criminal Justice System

RB/CIP Number: 22
Date: 01 Aug 2017
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Dr Ruth McCausland, Ms Elizabeth McEntyre, Prof Eileen Baldry (UNSW Sydney)

This research brief provides an analysis of available data on the prevalence rates of Indigenous people with mental health disorders and cognitive disability in Australia and outlines the challenges in obtaining accurate data. The brief considers issues facing these groups of Indigenous people in their contact with police, in courts, in custody and post-release, highlighting the lack of appropriate diversionary programs at all ages of this contact. Drawn from available research and evaluations, this brief concludes with key principles and strategies for policy and programming reform in this area.

The Indigenous Australians with Mental Health Disorders and Cognitive Disabilities in the Criminal Justice System Project was funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage Grant.

Property Crime and Indigenous Offenders

RB/CIP Number: 23
Date: 01 Jun 2018
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Willis, Matthew; Facchini, Lachlan

This research brief highlights the extent of property offending among Indigenous Australians and its contribution to over-representation across the criminal justice system, particularly for unlawful entry with intent/burglary offences. While a range of factors contribute to involvement in property offending, there is good evidence of the influence of socio-economic factors in driving property crime. The finding that Indigenous over-representation is increasing for property offending  at the same time it is stable or decreasing for other offence types is a valuable insight that points to the role of continuing socio-economic disadvantage in shaping Indigenous offending. Involvement in property crime is just one consequence of the ongoing marginalisation of Indigenous Australians from the economic gains experienced across Australian society more broadly.

The Growth in Remand and its Impact on Indigenous Over-Representation in the Criminal Justice System

RB/CIP Number: 24
Date: 05 Jan 2019
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Professor Lorana Bartels

The brief provides an overview of Australian data on changes to prisoner numbers and imprisonment rates for unsentenced and sentenced Indigenous adults in recent years. It also examines the factors leading to the growth in remand and the impact of this on Indigenous over-representation in the criminal justice system. The paper then considers strategies that aim to address these issues.

Towards effective throughcare approaches for Indigenous people leaving prison in Australia and New Zealand

RB/CIP Number: 25
Date: 21 Oct 2019
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Dr Andrew Day, Dr Lynore Geia, and Dr Armon Tamatea

In 2018, the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples concluded that a cycle of reoffending can result for those prisoners who are released from prison without support to transition into the community. It noted that incarceration leads to significant disruption in a person’s life that can include the loss of employment, housing, relationships and social support (see also Abbott et al. 2017) and identified the need for throughcare programs to be made more readily available (ALRC 2018). Although a large number of organisations, both government and non-government, now provide these programs, submissions to the Commission only identified a small number of programs that had been developed specifically for Indigenous prisoners – and these were diverse in terms of both the scope and the types of service that were offered. The purpose of this Brief is to consider the current status of throughcare programs in both Australia and New Zealand and to identify some key issues going forward.

Indigenous people in Australia and New Zealand and the intergenerational effects of incarceration

RB/CIP Number: 26
Date: 13 Jan 2020
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Dr Mike Roettger, Krystal Lockwood, and Prof Susan Dennison

Indigenous Australians are imprisoned at the highest rate of any people in the world (Anthony, 2017) and at a rate 16 times higher than non-Indigenous Australians (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2018).  Meanwhile, the M?ori in Aotearoa New Zealand are imprisoned at 7 times the rate of the general population (New Zealand Department of Corrections, 2019). These disproportional rates of imprisonment lead to disproportional impacts on Indigenous and M?ori children.  In Australia, studies have estimated that 20% of Indigenous children experience paternal imprisonment in both New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland (Dennison, Stewart, & Freiberg, 2013; Quilty et al, 2004), while 20% of Indigenous children in Western Australia experience maternal imprisonment (Dowell, Preen, & Segal, 2017). M?ori children are also disproportionately impacted, with an estimated 40% of children between ages 6-14 experiencing a parent serve a custodial or community sentence (Ball et al, 2016).

Experience of parental incarceration compounds existing adversities in the lives of many children whose parents offend and is associated with an increased risk of antisocial behaviour and imprisonment, mental and physical health issues, substance use, academic difficulties, and social marginalisation or exclusion in offspring (Murray, Bijleveld, Farrington, & Loeber, 2014; Wildeman, Goldman, & Turney, 2018; Besemer & Dennison, 2018). These impacts hold true for Indigenous children who are also more likely to experience residential instability, abuse and neglect, and poverty (Ball et al, 2016). The effects of parental imprisonment may extend from birth to death, and across multiple generations and kinship networks. In this research brief, we review existing research and interventions for improving outcomes of Indigenous children who experience parental imprisonment. Supporting children and their families is one way to disrupt the intergenerational impacts of incarceration. We identify the types of programs and policies required to reduce the impact of parental imprisonment on Indigenous children.

Post-prison programs for Indigenous Sex Offenders

RB/CIP Number: 27
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Dr Kelly Richards

High levels of sexual violence are evidence in some Indigenous communities in Australia (Cripps & McGlade, 2008; O’Brien, 2010; Smallbone, Rayment-McHugh & Smith, 2013) and other colonised nations such as the USA and Canada (Ellerby & MacPherson, 2002; Stewart, Hamilton, Wilton, Cousineau & Varrette, 2014). As a large majority of those incarcerated in relation to sexual offending will ultimately be released back into the community, it is vital to consider supports available to foster successful reintegration. However, very little has been documented about the reintegration support needs of Indigenous sex offenders.

The Brief begins to address this gap by assessing the existing evidence about programs that aim to foster the reintegration of Indigenous sex offenders based on available material primarily from Australia, New Zealand and Canada. It is divided into three main parts: the reintegration needs of Indigenous sex offenders; evidence on programs that aim to support the reintegration of Indigenous sex offenders; and finally, principles that should inform programs and other measures for this group.

Self-determination in the criminal justice system

RB/CIP Number: 28
Date: 10 Oct 2020
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Doreen TF Chen

Self-determination has long appeared in Indigenous criminal justice policy as a conceptual foundation underpinning policy applications. However, few policy discussions have focused on the contours of self-determination as a concept or legal right. This research brief accordingly seeks to do so, as well as to outline several current policy initiatives that demonstrate varied applications of self-determination in Australia and New Zealand.

International perspectives on using bail to improve Indigenous criminal justice outcomes

RB/CIP Number: 29
Date: 10 Oct 2020
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Doreen TF Chen

This Research Brief examines the impact of bail on Indigenous criminal justice outcomes in Australia and New Zealand. It adopts an international comparative perspective both to diversify the policy discourse and so as to explore available international literature and data on bail for Indigenous and minority populations. It begins with a consideration of the international law foundations for bail and examination of forms of bail available worldwide. It then assesses the impact of bail on Indigenous people through its corollary – remand – and then through bail itself.

Implementation options and evaluation of integrated service model responses to address Domestic and Family Violence in remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Communities

RB/CIP Number: 30
Date: 16 Oct 2020
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Dr Kyllie Cripps

Evaluative studies on the effectiveness and outcomes of integrated models responding to Domestic and Family Violence (DFV) remain limited (Productivity Commission 2020). Despite this, most jurisdictions see integrated models as best practice for effectively responding to DFV. This research brief describes how these models are broadly conceived, how they have been applied in Australia, where improvements have been made, and how they require further changes to support Indigenous victims particularly those in remote and rural settings. Similarly, this research brief highlights best practice to facilitate the improvement of practices, processes, and evaluation strategies for ensuring Indigenous families and communities remain at the ‘centre’ of future developments in this space.

Domestic violence responses for incarcerated Indigenous women in Australia & New Zealand

RB/CIP Number: 31
Date: 17 Feb 2022
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Doreen Chen

Indigenous women in Australia and New Zealand are disproportionately likely to be incarcerated for violent offences – as well as being victims themselves – of family, domestic and sexual violence (FDSV). This paper provides an overview of several considerations which may assist in culturally appropriate programming for at-risk Indigenous women. The paper describes five recent initiatives in Australia and New Zealand which focus on violence and trauma prevention and summarises some of their successful programming elements.

Prevention and early intervention programs for Indigenous young people in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand

RB/CIP Number: 32
Date: 06 Jul 2022
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Rachel Stringfellow, Juan Tauri and Kelly Richards

It has been well-documented that Indigenous young people are over-represented in the youth justice system. In Australia, Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people are over-represented at all stages of the justice system, and especially in detention. In Aotearoa New Zealand, statistics demonstrate that rangatahi Maori (Maori youth) are significantly over-represented in all facets of the New Zealand’s youth justice system.

Preventing Indigenous young people’s engagement in crime and subsequent contact with the criminal justice system has thus been identified as a critical measure to reduce this over-representation.

Current initiatives papers

Current initiatives papers report on promising activities being undertaken by justice agencies to improve Indigenous justice outcomes.

Reducing the unintended impact of fines

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This paper reports on the disproportionate impacts of the fines enforcements system on Indigenous people, and the efforts of justice agencies to avoid them. Innovations include outreach and education activities conducted by Aboriginal liaison officers, specialist courts, treatment orders, amnesty on enforcement fees and driver education programs.

Victoria's Neighbourhood Justice Centre

RB/CIP Number: 1
Date: 03 Aug 2009
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Courts and Tribunals Unit, Department of Justice, Victoria

Community Justice Centres are neighbourhood-focused centres that seek to enhance community participation in the justice system, address local problems, and enhance the quality of local community life. This paper provides the global context for the establishment of the Victorian Neighbourhood Justice Centre and details its rationale, operation, and results.

Towards cultural competence in the justice sector

RB/CIP Number: 3
Date: 01 Jun 2011
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Terri Farrelly & Bronwyn Carlson

This paper reports on the steps taken by Australian justice departments to improve the cultural competence of their organisations and staff members. It reviews literature in the area and identifies best practice principles for cultural competence training.

Indigenous Justice Agreements

RB/CIP Number: 4
Date: 03 Jun 2013
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Fiona Allison & Chris Cunneen

This paper provides an overview and analysis of the Indigenous Justice Agreements (IJAs) introduced by Australian states and territories, and examines whether strategic planning on Indigenous justice issues is improving Indigenous justice outcomes as intended. The authors identify four key factors for success of IJAs, along with key challenges likely to impact upon their effectiveness. Despite significant shortcomings, the authors conclude that IJAs do have a positive impact, in particular by providing Indigenous people with input into strategic planning, and providing government with a systematic and coherent strategy to address Indigenous justice issues.

The Yiriman Project in the West Kimberley: An example of Justice Reinvestment?

RB/CIP Number: 5
Date: 03 Jul 2017
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Dr Kathryn Thorburn and Melissa Marshall

This paper examines the Yiriman Project in the West Kimberley. The primary goal of the project was to support young Aboriginal people from remote communities connected culturally and linguistically within Nyikina, Managala, Walmajarri and Karajarri traditional lands and language groups. This paper provides an analysis as to whether the Yiriman project is an example of Justice Reinvestment and the complexities of evaluating and measuring the effectiveness of the project.