Aboriginal Courts, like Koori Courts, typically involve an Aboriginal Elder or justice officer sitting on the bench with a magistrate. The Elder can advise the magistrate on the offender to be sentenced and about cultural and community issues. Offenders might receive customary punishments or community service orders as an alternative to prison—Aboriginal Courts can only sentence Aboriginal offenders who have pleaded guilty to an offence. The offender may have a relative present at the hearing, with the offender, his/her relative and the offender’s lawyer sitting at the bar table. The magistrate may ask questions of the offender, the victim (if present) and members of the family and community in assisting with sentencing options. The conditions placed on court orders may involve meeting with Elders or a community justice group on a regular basis and undertaking courses, programs or counselling relevant to their particular needs. Orders, particularly probation orders and intensive correction orders, often include conditions requiring spending time with Elders, attendance at counselling and/or programs to address specific issues (for example domestic violence and family violence, alcohol or drug abuse), attendance at Indigenous men’s groups or other support groups.
Over-representation of women
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are over-represented as offenders at even higher rates than Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men (Source: Indigenous women in Australian criminal justice: Over-represented but rarely acknowledged, Julie Stubbs, Australian Indigenous Law Review, Vol. 15, No. 1, 2011: 47-63). In addition, they are also much more likely to be the victims of violent crime. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are:
- 35 times as likely to be hospitalised for family-violence related assaults
- 11 times more likely to die due to assault. (Source: Family violence among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2006, section 4.3, p 71)
Case Study: Tribal Warrior Association
One way of reducing crime in communities and reducing the number of young people going to gaol is through programs designed for young men, to teach positive values. One such program is run through the Tribal Warrior Foundation in Redfern.
Shane Phillips, who runs the Tribal Warrior Foundation, grew up in Redfern at a time when it was considered a dangerous community and had a very high crime rate. He is well-placed to know that if young men go to prison, it can lead to a life-long cycle of being in and out of institutions. The activities of the Tribal Warrior Foundation include the running of a cultural tourism business that takes visitors around Sydney Harbour and explains significant cultural sites and history. Targeting disadvantaged Indigenous youth in particular, the business is the only Indigenous Maritime Training Company operating within Australia. The Tribal Warrior also runs a mentoring program that is designed to work with young men who are at risk of being sent to gaol. Through a program of discipline, physical training and activities to assist the community, men learn positive values, self-esteem and the rewards of working usefully in a community. The program works closely with the local police and they have reported a 70% decrease in crime. Find out more about the Tribal Warrior Association.