Best practice characteristics of prison programs

9.41     The NT Anti-Discrimination Commission noted that prison programs should be ‘culturally appropriate in content and delivery, and be evaluated’.[79] This sentiment was echoed by other stakeholders,[80] with many highlighting the need for trauma-informed programs designed by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.[81]

9.42     The need for specialised programs targeted, not only at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people generally, but to their specific needs—such as programs targeted at mental health needs—was also raised.[82] Similarly, the importance of individualised case management, holistic support, and a therapeutic approach that addresses criminogenic needs, and support on release was emphasised.[83]

9.43     The Prison to Work Report noted a paucity of long-term, evaluated prison programs in Australia—meaning that the evidence base for ‘what works’ in relation to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners is not well-established.[84] VALS particularly recommended that the Commonwealth Government undertake research into the ‘programmatic needs’ of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female prisoners.[85]

9.44     With regard to persons held on remand or serving short sentences, the Law Council of Australia observed that facilitating access to programs relies particularly on effective early assessment of a person’s criminogenic needs. It noted that prison can be a ‘circuit breaker for many people from the issues that have led them to being imprisoned or remanded for example, poverty, lack of housing, mental health conditions or lack of employment’.[86] The Reception Transition Triage operated by Corrections Victoria was identified as a good model that seeks to identify and address immediate needs that ‘without intervention would escalate or compound’.[87] The NSW Government submission outlined the approach taken by NSW Corrective Services, which includes early identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners (as high risk of reoffending) and intervention. NSW Government advised that, in 2016–17, 29% of program attendees in offence-based programs were Aboriginal. The proportion of attendees in offence-based programs is higher than the percentage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a proportion of the prison population.[88]

9.45     NFVPLS identified the following best practice elements for prison programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, particularly women:

  • programs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people need to be designed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations with relevant experience and expertise;

  • programs must take a strengths-based approach that incorporates culturally-based healing and builds resilience and reduces the vulnerability of participants, particularly women who are victims/survivors of family violence;

  • programs should focus on building participants’ self-esteem and well-being;

  • programs must include a strong local community focus that strengthens friendships, relationships and connections within the community;

  • activities should support participants to develop and undertake leadership roles and speak out on issues within their community; and

  • programs should increase participants’ access to support and legal services within their community, both mainstream and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific services.[89]