Healing in justice: Reimagining our approach to Aboriginal incarceration

 Mr Jordan Gibbs1, Dr Justin Trounson, Dr Stephane Shepherd & Dr Graham Gee

1Senior Research Assistant | Provisional Psychologist | PhD Candidate, Centre for Forensic Behavioural Science, Swinburne University of Technology


Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are grossly over-represented across the criminal justice system. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples account for over a quarter (29%) of the Australian adult prison population (ABS, 2020), despite accounting for only 3.3% of the adult population (ABS, 2018). Compounding these high imprisonment rates, research indicates that approximately 70–80% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in prison experience one or more mental health disorders (Heffernan et al., 2012; Ogloff et al., 2017; Shepherd et al., 2018) and that psychological distress is significantly higher compared to their non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander counterparts (Rose et al., 2019; Shepherd et al., 2016; Shepherd, et al. 2018). Additionally, the experience of trauma and the diagnosis of PTSD are highly prevalent amongst incarcerated Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples (Atkinson, 2008; Heffernan et al., 2015; Ogloff, Rose et al, 2019). Trauma experience has been identified as a risk factor for incarceration and recidivism (Honorato et. al., 2016). This paper will discuss the growing discourse on decolonising and reimagining our approaches to both health and justice. It will argue the need to engage at three levels, decolonising criminal justice research and clinical practice to engage the narratives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; developing culturally safe and strengths-based healing and resilience programming; and the facilitation of effective transitions that involve the use of wrap around services within community. By reimagining healing in justice, we can more effectively target the cycles of intergenerational trauma and incarceration for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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