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Breaking the cycles of addiction and incarceration | South Sydney Herald South Sydney Herald

Aboriginal IssuesLegal MattersNewsSocial Justice

Breaking the cycles of addiction and incarceration

Andrew Meehan wants everyone to know that the “gap” is getting wider, and he wants us to do something about it. Mr Meehan, the director of ANTaR, an advocacy organisation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, hosted “Changing the Record on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Incarceration” at the University of NSW’s Law Building on November 10.

Hal Wootten (Foundation Dean of Law, UNSW, and a judge with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody), Keenan Mundine, Kirstie Parker, Andrew Meehan and Judge Roger Dive. Photo: Shannon Longhurst
Hal Wootten (Foundation Dean of Law, UNSW, and a judge with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody), Keenan Mundine, Kirstie Parker, Andrew Meehan and Judge Roger Dive. Photo: Shannon Longhurst

A host of figures told their stories, each person presenting a case of survival and overcoming the odds.

The statistics are overwhelming. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people account for 28 per cent of the total prison population, despite making up only 3 per cent of the population of Australia.

Judge Roger Dive of NSW’s Drug Court prefaced his remarks by saying, “Simplistic ideas don’t work.” His program, however, seems to be working well.

The Drug Court program sees a participant meet with the judge weekly, undergo home visits and curfew checks, supervised drug testing, counseling and group work. After a minimum of 12 months in the program 50 per cent of participants do not return to gaol. Currently there are 254 applicants actively engaged in the program. Judge Dive says the difference is made through services to support people.

The amphitheatre fell silent as Keenan Mundine shared his story of incarceration and redemption. Looking to the back of the room, he smiled at his pregnant partner. You can’t help but think how things might have been different for him, had he fallen through the cracks like so many others.

Through determination to change his life, and with the help of government-implemented services such as Judge Dive’s Drug Court, Mr Mundine is one person “changing the record”. He now works with WEAVE, as a community youth advocate and support worker, and lends his voice to other social justice issues. Just Reinvest is one of them, which hopes to shift government-allocated prison spending to justice reinvestment.

Speaking of the human impact of the current situation, Kirstie Parker of the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence in Redfern, declared: “Australia is missing out.” She spoke of the richness of culture, the talent of people we are yet to hear from, the people being silenced, and how ultimately Australia as a whole is suffering for it. She said that after hundreds of years of stuff being done to the Aboriginal community, and not with the Aboriginal community, the answer lies in working together to find a solution.

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