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Significant benefits to culturally appropriate reporting site in the ACT - report

Dechlan Brennan -

A 'culturally appropriate' reporting site in the ACT for Indigenous clients has been deemed a "relaxed, comfortable and well-connected space" by individuals using the service, according to a new report.

The Yeddung Mura External Reporting Site in Fadden was opened in 2021, designed to provide a culturally safe space for people on community-based sentences or parole orders. Every week, an ACT Corrective Services (ACTCS) officer and First Nations Cultural Engagement Officer attend the site to meet with First Nations clients.

The report, which also garnered responses from stakeholders and the ACTCS, said Indigenous clients could go to the Yeddung Mura site instead of the ACTCS's office in Canberra City and was designed with the aim of "contributing to the reduction of over-representation of First Nations Peoples in the ACT justice system".

The report found clients, stakeholders and the ACTCS were "overwhelmingly supportive" of the site.

It said the site contributed to clients actively engaging with supervision and reporting requirements, offered better support for clients with complex mental health issues - including those with trauma - by providing an alternative model of care, and offered the staff at both ACTCS and Yeddung Mira a chance to work together to address issues of non-compliance, including developing plans to support clients.

Chief executive of Yeddung Mura, Pastor Priestley Obed, said the use of the site was a great example of the government collaborating with the community and implementing Indigenous-led solutions to help improve justice outcomes.

"We hope that, in the future, the directorate will collaborate with the community to implement more Aboriginal community-led solutions that will benefit clients," Priestley said.

Yeddung Mura, a Ngunnawal term meaning "good pathways," is an Aboriginal-owned and controlled organisation operating in Fadden since 2019. Pastor Priestly told Riotact in 2022 no one was "forced" to complete any of the programs at the facility, rather "they must want to get well first".

He said people didn't need help so much with "physical things such as buying tea and coffee. They needed support and community".

"It's hard to come out of prison," he said.

The Indigenous incarceration rate in the ACT for the September quarter was 1,662.3 per 100,000 people with data from 2021-2022 showing Indigenous Canberrans are more than 15 times more likely to be in prison than non-Indigenous Canberrans.

Two per cent (8,908) of the population in the ACT identified as Indigenous in the latest census. In June 2023, Attorney-General Shane Rattenbury said the ACT continued to see "unacceptable levels of over-representation of First Nations people in our justice system".

ACT Minister for Corrections, Emma Davidson, said the Yeddung Mura site was ultimately about reducing Indigenous recidivism and incarceration.

"People who enter our criminal justice system need the right support to leave the system for good and be welcome in the community," she said.

"This program recognises the challenges that First Nations people face in the ACT criminal justice system and provides culturally appropriate support."

The Minister said Yeddung Mura was not only a dedicated First Nations reporting site, but also offered access to a variety of mental health and wellbeing programs, a program for family, domestic and sexual violence prevention, connection to Elders and Yarning Circles.

"Through Yeddung Mura, more First Nations people have received the right support to rebuild strong ties with the community to reduce recidivism," Ms Davidson said.

The review into the site outlined steps the ACTCS could consider in the future. These included offering additional sites in the ACT, expanding the eligibility of criteria for non-Indigenous clients and vulnerable groups, and offering additional days of the week for clients to report at the Yeddung Mura external reporting site.

By offering further sites, the ACTCS could help improve the range of interventions that facilitate a reduction in the likelihood of a client breaching order conditions, the report said.

ACTCS Acting Commissioner Bruno Aloisi said Corrective Services was committed to providing appropriate support and services to clients.

"The positive experiences that clients, staff and other stakeholders expressed about the external reporting site not only demonstrates their benefits but will also assist us in our planning around future service delivery more broadly," he said.

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