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The NSW Government announced it will inject $20 million over four years into justice initiatives aimed at reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the criminal justice system.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said the package offers significant expansions of programs that are already running.

“The NSW Government is committed to working closely and collaboratively with Aboriginal communities to address disproportionate rates of Aboriginal incarceration,” said Speakman in a statement issued on July 18.

The initiative includes $5.8 million towards expanding the Youth Koori Court, $9.8 million for new Justice Reinvestment pilots and $4.2 million towards expanding the Circle Sentencing program.

The Circle Sentencing program will now be available at local courts at Penrith, Campbelltown, Wollongong, Broken Hill, Batemans Bay, Waggga Wagga, Waverley and the Sydney Downing Centre.

Circle Sentencing offers an alternative form of sentencing where the court works alongside Aboriginal Elders, victims, the offender’s family, and respected members of the community to find an appropriate sentence.

To date, more than 1,450 Circle Sentencing sittings have been held. This approach is favoured over traditional sentencing as it has been seen to reduce the rates of imprisonment and reoffending.

Uncle John Bolt, a member of the Bundjalung nation, has worked as an Elder in the Circle Sentencing program for over 20 years.

Uncle John Bolt, Aboriginal Elder Uncle John Bolt, Aboriginal Elder

Over the past 20 years it’s been really strong and positive, giving our community the opportunity to see our young people get a better start in life and stop being incarcerated.

Ben Franklin, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, emphasised that these investments support the NSW Government’s commitment to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap.

The objective of the National Agreement is to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and governments work together to prevent inequality experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Investing in these programs aims to meet targets within the Closing the Gap agreement, including reducing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adults and young people in the criminal justice system,” said Franklin.

These investments are on top of the initiatives already announced by the NSW Government such as the Walama List pilot, the expansion of the NSW Drug Court to Dubbo and creating specialist roles to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participants going through the Drug Court.

CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service Karly Warner welcomed the additional funding for initiatives that have proven to be effective.

“Prisons only cause harm and trauma, but we have alternatives that actually work,” said Warner.

“The Youth Koori Court and the Circle Sentencing Program not only keep Aboriginal people in community rather than in prisons, but they open up access to counselling and services that address the underlying causes of offending.

“These processes allow Aboriginal people and communities to participate in sentencing decisions, which in turn helps to address the well-founded distrust that many Aboriginal people have in the criminal legal system.”