The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission has recently completed research into the experiences of Koori women and the justice system. This project is one of the Commission's key responsibilities under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement 3.
The Commission worked with four focus groups composed of Koori female prisoners at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre. The Commission also conducted five case study interviews with female prisoners and with Koori women who had left prison. In addition, 15 key informant interviews with people across the justice system, community service organisations, Magistrates and academics were undertaken.
The research also found that in 2012, 80 per cent of Koori women entering Victorian prisons were mothers. A high proportion of Koori women prisoners were themselves clients of child protection services as children. Many now have their children in informal or formal out-of-home care.
The report entitled Unfinished business: Koori women and the justice system is now available.
You can download the reports below or view online as a PDF.
The recently evaluated Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 2 (AJA2), identified that the development of effective diversionary options for Koori women remains one of the main unfinished tasks and was a priority recommendation. There has also been considerable advocacy and research on this issue.
Studies have shown that imprisoning Koori women on remand and during pre-sentence periods can have crippling, long-term effects on their families and the broader community, particularly when less than 15% of Koori women on remand ultimately receive custodial sentences.
These women are generally young and often impacted by violence and trauma. Their offences are predominantly property related, infringements and the execution of warrants.
Research reveals high rates of psychological affective disorders (depression, anxiety), and post traumatic stress disorder among Koori women in prison. These findings come from interim results from the Victorian Aboriginal Community Control Health Organisation (VACCHO).
What we found
While at any one time around 30 Koori women will be in Victorian prisons, many cycle through the system multiple times, often on short sentences, or on remand and then not sentenced. Koori female prisoners are generally young, and many have experienced family violence, sexual abuse and intergenerational trauma. Homelessness before and after prison is common.
Offending and imprisonment patterns for Koori women differ from those of Koori men. They also differ from those of other women, noting that Koori women's health and wellbeing depends on a strong connection to culture. Thus, connection to culture is a crucial protective factor and must lie at the heart of any intervention.
While a range of successful initiatives have been established in Victoria for Koori men and other groups, there remains a lack of effective diversion options for Koori women.
The report makes 29 recommendations to agencies across government, including Victoria Police, Magistrates' Court, Corrections Victoria, Justice Health, Department of Justice, Department of Human Services, the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People and the Victorian Auditor-General.
The recommendations address over-representation of Koori women across the criminal justice system, as well as specific recommendations regarding the establishment of a culturally and gender appropriate model of diversion. The report also identifies principles of effective intervention to guide the further development of prevention, diversion and post-release programs.
The Commission looks forward to progressing these recommendations through the Aboriginal Justice Forum over the coming months.