We, Archie Roach, Joy Murphy and Jack Charles, come together as a Council of Elders, concerned about the over-representation of First Nations people in the Victorian Justice System. We are particularly concerned about how many of our young people are now being held within the youth justice system.
We believe that much more needs to be done to support our children and young people currently in detention. We need to help them to build a strong, positive sense of identity and connection to culture, community and place so that they can make a successful transition out of the justice system and lead full, healthy and vibrant lives.
As Elders and older people, we need to be there for our children. We need to ask what is going on for, and happening to, our young people, and to act and speak up as a group, and to work with others to offer solutions to support our children. We need to meet our cultural responsibility and to hold others accountable for meeting theirs.
The Council of Elders is committed to acting on its cultural responsibility and authority, to speak out for our young people and their families, and to work with Government and the community to honestly identify what is and is not working in the youth justice system and to make the changes that are needed to provide constructive life pathways for our children.
Our intention is to act as a catalyst for constructive dialogue and tangible change, in what is currently a tense and highly political environment.
There are a number of issues that stand out as areas of concern for us that we believe need to be addressed.
1. The right to education has been compromised.
Young people in detention are not currently being provided with appropriate and consistent access to education in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
2. Cultural safety does not currently exist in the youth justice system.
Young First Nations detainees are being challenged to have to prove their Aboriginality and, in some cases, are being led to deny their background. As a result they are being cut off from both their community and cultural identity, and are being prevented from accessing culturally appropriate programs or supports.
3. Youth Justice Centre staff and Parkville College staff are not being provided with adequate training to build cultural awareness or understand cultural and family connections in a way that will allow them to engage and relate to First Nations young people effectively.
First Nations-based supports being provided through the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Education and Training are not being appropriately coordinated.
The Cultural Education Program that was being run through Parkville College, and providing a valuable mechanism through which to connect with and support First Nations detainees, is not currently being delivered.
4. First Nations families and communities are not being engaged effectively to support their children and work towards positive post-release pathways.
First Nations families are not being kept advised of where their children are being held.
The way that telephone contacts and access visits are managed means that First Nations families and community members are not able to maintain a relationship with, and support, their children effectively.
Not enough investment is being made to provide First Nations young people with culturally appropriate options to help them to make a positive transition when they are released from detention.
Our experience, and that of our community, as well as academic research and professional practice, show that the over-representation of First Nations people in incarceration can be reduced through the provision of targeted, culturally appropriate engagement, education and rehabilitation programs. Identity, connection to culture, family and community are critical.
There is much that can be done to address the above issues; to build cultural safety and to provide our children with access to the education and supports that they need to build a positive sense of identity, purpose and place in their community.
We are at a crisis point and we need to work together to make a difference for our children.
Archie Roach, AM
Joy Murphy Wandin, AO
The Council of Elders can be contacted through the Archie Roach Foundation by email at firstname.lastname@example.org