THERE is a need for greater awareness in the underlying issues of Aboriginals in custody in our own backyard, justice workers for the region's Indigenous peoples say.
The proportion of Aboriginal people in custody in Victoria has doubled to 28 per cent since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, even though Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people make up point-eight per cent of the state's population.
The average daily number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander adult prisoners increased five per cent in the three months to March and Victoria was on trend, according to Australian Bureau of Statistics figures released on Thursday.
Wadawurrung woman Bonnie Chew, who works as an independent Aboriginal prison visitor for Victoria's Corrections Minister, said one of the major issues for Indigenous people in prison was identity.
A lot of people are still feeling the effects of inter-generational trauma...Many inmates have lost a sense of connection their cultures and community.Bonnie Chew
"A lot of people are still feeling the effects of inter-generational trauma caused by colonisation and ongoing practices of our government," Ms Chew said.
"Many inmates have lost a sense of connection their cultures and community and it's my role to understand what is and isn't working in the Victorian prison system, from a community perspective, for those who may not feel they have a voice."
The Victorian government's Aboriginal affairs framework recognises the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the state's prison system is linked to ripple effects from European colonisation. Such social and economic circumstances can be compounded by loss in culture, family and purpose.
Ms Chew's volunteer role with the independent prison visitor scheme is observational in all prisons across the state. Prisoners and staff can talk to her and she prepares independent reports on operations for the Corrections Minister from a community perspective.
Ms Chew said with high Indigenous imprisonment rates there were many programs trying to assist a re-connection to culture, like help with family history research and art projects including Langi Kal Kal's Koori art trail around Beaufort Lake.
But there were still major issues, mostly in travel and cost for phone calls, for many prisoners to have meaningful connection with family.
In the wake of the Royal Commission, the government established six (now nine) Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committees to advocate and promote for improved Aboriginal justice, working with key Aboriginal and justice representatives.
Almost 3,200 Aboriginal people live in the Grampians RAJAC area, which stretches from the Hepburn through to West Wimmera.
From this has evolved police roles such as the Aboriginal community liaison officer, working as link between Aboriginal community and proactive policing, and uniformed Police Aboriginal liaison officers, working to resolve issues with Aboriginal people in the area. Such officers are in major police bases across the state, including Ballarat.
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