Evaluation of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 3

The Evaluation of the Aboriginal Justice Agreement Phase 3 (AJA3) set out to:

  • investigate whether the partnership model of the AJA3 increased collaboration and contributed to improved justice outcomes 
  • determine whether the current governance models were still the most appropriate and efficient
  • examine how effectively AJA3 addressed Aboriginal over-representation in the justice system and identify opportunities for improvement under AJA4.

The Evaluation gathered data through multiple sources including document and literature review; analysis of crime statistics data; observation; face to face interviews; focus group discussions and workshops; and a findings summit held at the Aboriginal Justice Forum (AJF).

Full evaluation reports are available on this website. 

Key findings of the Evaluation

The AJA partnership is mature, robust and an effective model 

The AJA partnership has reached a level of maturation not replicated elsewhere and has been instrumental in effecting real change in terms of embedding cultural awareness and the adoption of an Aboriginal lens for the development of new strategies, policies and initiatives. It has facilitated and enabled the development of strong and durable relationships between Government agencies and with members of the Victorian Aboriginal community. The AJA governance structures have been instrumental in giving voice to Aboriginal people across the state – from small regional communities through to highly urbanised centres.

The context has changed since the establishment of the AJA partnership in 2000

Other government agencies have developed portfolio-specific strategies to address Aboriginal disadvantage, and have replicated AJA structures in other areas, and the Victorian Government has made a commitment to fostering greater self-determination across service sectors. The consequence of this is an increased demand on Aboriginal people to participate in a broader range of forums and partnerships. Community representatives are now having to make decisions about how to prioritise their time and where they can have the greatest impact for their efforts.

All partners have benefited from the partnership, even Government

Initiatives like the AJA are often considered something that government does for (and sometimes, to) citizens. However, Government is a beneficiary itself of the AJA partnership. The AJA has built the capacity of government as much as it has strengthened the capacity of community. The model has provided a conduit for government agencies to better connect with the people they serve – to gain insights and understanding that have previously eluded them.

There is still a need for the Aboriginal Justice Agreement

The over-representation of Aboriginal people in the justice system remains disproportionately high, and the conditions that led to the signing of the first AJA remain as valid today as they were in 2000. Aboriginal Victorians continue to have poorer justice outcomes for all cohorts, and there is evidence that recent justice legislative responses has tended to disproportionately affect Aboriginal people.

What makes the AJA and its programs effective?

Although the overarching aim to reduce the over-representation of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice system has not been achieved, AJA initiatives and programs are achieving positive outcomes and there have been significant contributions made towards delivering on the AJA’s six strategic objectives across all regions. There are characteristics of these successful initiatives that can be learned from, including:

Community ownership of initiatives

The involvement of Aboriginal Controlled Community Organisations or bodies (e.g. gathering places) as the prime delivery agent for services to Aboriginal people is central to the success of the AJA’s approach. Led by Aboriginal people, these organisations are best placed to understand community needs and deliver responsive services. Basing programs within Aboriginal organisations improves the credibility of programs within the community, strengthens coordination at the local level, and increases client access to a range of programs and services.

A supported Aboriginal workforce

A strong and supported Aboriginal workforce is crucial for client engagement. Successful programs employ Aboriginal staff who are known in the community, respected and trusted by program participants, highly motivated, well trained, and skilled at providing cultural support to clients. These workers ‘walk between the two worlds’ of community and government and act as a mediator and sometimes translator for both. Successful programs resource workers adequately and provide supports to manage cultural loads and vicarious trauma.

Joined up and collaborative working

The most successful initiatives have a high level of active networking and strong collaboration between justice agencies, service providers and the Aboriginal community. These joined-up programs take a holistic approach to the provision of services; focus on underlying protective and risk factors; integrate referral systems; have well-functioning steering committees; and strong stakeholder relationships which provide staff with opportunities for networking and sharing information.

An integrated approach to culture

Where success has been achieved the overarching factor that has contributed to that success is strength of identity and strength of culture. Programs which take an integrated approach to culture, where culture is not treated as a set of stand-alone activities that can be separated or isolated from other programs and services, are able to provide a more culturally appropriate response to the needs of Aboriginal clients, and consequently tend to have higher rates of client participation and effectiveness.

Strong local leadership

The effectiveness of the AJA and in particular the RAJAC and LAJACs is contingent upon the strength and passion of individual members. This includes strong leaders from both the community and government. Involving the RAJACs/LAJACs in setting priorities also allows for prioritisation according to community strengths so that programs have the greatest chance of success.

Addressing issues holistically

The most effective programs address issues holistically rather than taking a singular focus on offending. This includes using client-centred approaches where support is tailored to each person in accordance with his or her individual needs and circumstances. Taking a holistic approach and not simply focusing on criminal behaviours does not offer a short-term fix.

Learning from the evaluation 

The evaluation of AJA3 took a strong learning approach, and many of the findings and recommendations were responded to in the implementation of AJA4:

The AJA3 evaluation found that… Under AJA4 we have committed to…
The AJA needs to respond to the changing context to retain its relevance. Reviewing the AJA governance structures to ensure they are strategic and effective.
Strong community leaders drive the success of AJA initiatives. Funding additional capacity to support the Aboriginal Justice Caucus to increase their participation and leadership role.
A strong and supported Aboriginal workforce is crucial for client engagement. Developing and implementing an Aboriginal Justice Workforce Development Strategy.
The most effective programs are flexible and responsive to local contexts. Supporting Aboriginal communities to develop and implement projects that respond to local justice issues.
Addressing issues holistically rather than taking a singular focus on offending is more effective. Collaborating across government to deliver family centred approaches for Aboriginal clients with complex needs across multiple systems.
There is a need to expand the number of Aboriginal designed and delivered programs for female Aboriginal offenders. Exploring the feasibility of a residential program to provide cultural and gender-specific supports for Aboriginal women involved in the corrections system.
Aboriginal young people are still at increased risk of involvement with the justice system. Delivering community-based diversion programs for Aboriginal young people who are vulnerable to involvement with the justice system.
The number of culturally relevant programs across regional Victoria is insufficient to meet demand. Continuing and expanding culturally responsive programs and services such as Koori Court, the Aboriginal Community Justice Panels, and the Koori Women’s Diversion Program.
There remains a high demand for accountability among community stakeholders. Considering the possible creation of an independent Aboriginal Justice Commissioner.
Aboriginal people have been disproportionately affected by regulatory and legislative changes. Considering mechanisms to identify the potential impact of new justice policies and legislation on Aboriginal Victorians.