Aboriginal 'justice centre' for Victoria?

Issue 

By Linda Paric

MELBOURNE — According to Aboriginal tradition, Dooligar is a tall human-like animal used to frighten children into obedience. Now, it seems white justice may be about to take on a black mantle with the proposed establishment of the Dooligar Justice Centre for Aboriginal offenders.

According to Victorian minister for corrections Mal Sandon, Dooligar is a key response to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody.

The royal commission found that most of the crimes committed by Aborigines are minor. The biggest offending group is 17-25 years old. Although the total number of Aborigines in custody in Victoria (100 in jail and 200 on parole) may not seem great, it has increased more than tenfold in the last 10 years. According to Sandon, "Kooris are 16 times more likely to be imprisoned".

The rate of re-offending is very high. Most of the crimes are committed because of poor housing, employment and educational opportunities. Sandon thinks the programs at Dooligar will help break this vicious cycle.

Carmel Barry, a prison welfare officer instrumental in the development of the submission for Dooligar, told Green Left that the centre's establishment would cover "12 recommendations from the royal commission".

Barry spent six months studying the Canadian correctional system's handling of native Americans. The Dooligar proposal is based on the Grierson Centre in Edmonton, which is run by native people for native people. This centre, established in 1988 and expanded since, offers a community education and work program and cultural programs for identity

reaffirmation, role models and life skills, including vocational training, developing resumes, work ethics and life plans.

An Aboriginal offender's average stay at Dooligar would be about two weeks and a maximum stay would be three months, according to Reg Blow, Aboriginal program development officer and Program Dooligar coordinator. Dooligar will be "piloted over three years and taken over by the Aboriginal community after that", he said.

"Initially, there will also be Aboriginal involvement in the management of the centre and the staff will be Aboriginal, hopefully", he added.

Both Blow and Barry say Dooligar will not be a jail but a community corrections centre with a residential unit. The centre would be only for offenders on community orders, pre-release and parole. A condition for an offender's pre-release might be that they go to Dooligar, though they would have a right to refuse, says Blow. Dooligar would be able to cater for 25 Kooris, male and female.

At present, Dooligar is only a concept that has been discussed with a number of Aboriginal groups. Barry and Blow will begin broader consultations with Victorian Kooris in the next month. According to some sources, the idea has "the nod" in the places that matter — the Office of Corrections and among politicians.

Even though formal consultations have not yet begun and he didn't know much about the proposal, Aboriginal Health Services worker Mick Kay is supportive of Dooligar. He has been working with Kooris in prison for three years and says: "In prison, the whites and blacks don't mix. Aborigines are shy and it makes sense to keep them together". Dickson Patten, for the Victorian Aboriginal Association, also supported the idea as an alternative to the current system.

However, one Aboriginal spokesperson who preferred not to be named was critical of the proposal because it had been inadequately discussed. He also said that while the proposal was essentially a government initiative, Aboriginal people had designed the centre, and this had blurred the issue of whose justice it is.

He added that the 393 royal commission recommendations were a package which should all be implemented if any real change was to occur. However, the government has not shown the same readiness to fund recommendations concerning factors that cause high rates of imprisonment and deaths in custody.

There's a big question mark over how an Aboriginal jail will stop Aborigines ending up in jail, he said. Aboriginal concepts could not be included in any jail system, black or white.
[Copies of the Dooligar Justice Centre proposal are available through Ian Richardson, Policy and Planning Unit, Office of Corrections, phone (03) 698 6506.]

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