Wow…what a year. One to forget or one to remain etched in our collective memories? A bit of both I guess!
From the CIJ’s point of view, Covid-19 created extraordinary opportunities to work with stakeholders to help the justice system adapt to the unprecedented times.
Much of our work relates to projects that reduce social and financial costs related to court demand, incarceration rates, youth offending, family violence, victim services and people with disabilities while trying to embed restorative practices into the system. We have also continued to offer students from a range of disciplines life-changing placement experiences delivered remotely.
Winning a National Good Design Gold Award for developing an on-line resource to support court and legal professionals better respond to people with a disability, shows that the work we do is having national implications.
Having Courts, Statutory Authorities and even large public companies seek our support in relation to restorative practices, again shows the practical impact of the work we do.
Seeing the Minister for Corrections, Crime Prevention, Youth Justice and Victim Support, Natalie Hutchins launch and endorse our extensive report on Victim Services Review shows that our work is changing lives.
As we have continually said, out of adversity comes opportunity and the CIJ has grabbed with both hands the opportunity in these uncertain times to make the justice system a positive intervention in people’s lives.
There are 3 keys to our success and long may they continue…..impact, impact, impact!
- Rob Hulls, CIJ Director
RESEARCH WITH IMPACT SYSTEMIC REFORM – Victim Services Review Report Launch The CIJ was delighted to be invited by the Minister for Victim Support to launch our report concerning a review and proposed redesign of Victoria’s victim support system. This work, conducted throughout 2019, involved an extensive review of the existing suite of victim-focused services; consultations and workshops with a wide range of practitioners and stakeholders; as well as, most importantly, interviews with 37 victims of crime around the state.
While the experiences of victims were highly varied, consistent themes from across these interviews indicated that victims’ needs were complex and not necessarily dictated by the type of crime they had experienced. These interviews informed recommendations for a proposed redesign of the service model – with a centralised, specialist phone-based service delivered by a proposed Victim Support Centre which could provide initial risk and needs assessment and ongoing check-ins for people with less extensive needs; and a community-based Victim Support and Recovery Program at which intensive service provision and lighter caseloads could address longer term and multiple needs, including across whole families.
Overall, the review demonstrated an opportunity to adapt to the evolving evidence-base around the experiences of victims of crime – and to acknowledge the ‘Victim Support System’ as a highly specialised area in need of a specialised response. Initial steps in terms of workforce capability and development are the foundation of this and the CIJ was delighted to hear the Minister for Victim Support similarly recognise the value of this early focus to inform any future reforms.
The CIJ’s proposal for a redesign of the system can be found in the review’s Final Report; the themes from our interviews with victims of crime in this Practice Insights resource and a summary of our findings in Part One of a two part blog piece by Riley Ellard.
Associate Director, Elena Campbell, would like to thank Riley for her astonishing work across the review and redesign process, as well as for substantial additional work conducted in 2020 in preparation for making the report and interview findings public. Elena would also like to thank other members across the CIJ team, including Catherine Caruana, for their contribution to the early stages of the review, as well as for a standalone project reviewing the Child Witness Service. Finally, the CIJ would also like to thank the Victim Support, Services & Reform Unit at the Department of Justice & Community Safety for their commitment to a stronger response for victims of crime. Look out for more from the CIJ about the experiences of victims of crime in 2021!
RESEARCH WITH IMPACT SYSTEMIC REFORM – Children’s Court Redesign Throughout 2019 and into 2020, the CIJ served in an advisory role to support the Graduate School of Business and Law at RMIT and Huddle Design Consulting, who were engaged by the Children’s Court of Victoria to guide its Service Delivery Reform Project. The Project aimed to use human-centred design to improve the experiences of all court users and to encourage their collaboration towards better outcomes in the court’s system. The outcomes from the project served as a crucial foundation for the Children’s Court rapid and successful adaptation to service delivery in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. Opportunities identified through the project will also inform the court’s ongoing strategic direction over the coming years and the CIJ has been delighted to participate in this work over the life of the project.
In addition, the CIJ was delighted to oversee the development of a resource focusing on Specialist Children’s Court approaches across Australia and in comparable jurisdictions around the world. This resource will also inform the Children’s Court’s ongoing strategic direction and, as the principles outlined in the the resource identify, highlights how essential it is to have specialist approaches to legal responses with children and young people which are child focused; which promote the participation of children and families; which incorporate problem-solving, collaborative and multi-disciplinary practices; are supported by a specialised and trained workforce; and which are culturally responsive.
Associate Director Elena Campbell would like to thank Leah Deery, our fantastic Project Officer, for all her great work across the Service Delivery Reform Project and, in particular, for her commitment to producing this highly valuable resource. Elena would also like to thank the team at Huddle, GSBL and, of course, the Children’s Court, for their commitment to improving the user experience for the vulnerable children, young people and families who come through its doors.
RESEARCH WITH IMPACT FAMILY VIOLENCE – Behind closed doors –
Adolescent Violence in the Home (AVITH) during COVID & challenges to come As part of our ongoing work around the issue of AVITH – both in terms of promoting the findings of the PIPA project and working with community service providers to develop more integrated responses – CIJ Associate Director Elena Campbell has partnered with the Centre for Family Research & Evaluation at drummond street services to release an Issues Paper examining the issue of AVITH during COVID-19 lockdowns.
Families experiencing adolescent violence must be remembered in the recovery effort The use of family violence by children and young people has been a concern for some time. The Royal Commission into Family Violence dedicated specific recommendations to it, while growing research, including the PIPA project, points to the complexities across families experiencing this challenge.
These complexities include stigma which makes families reluctant to report; wide-ranging needs which have not been addressed by any services; legal mechanisms which were designed to respond to adult perpetration but which capture children who may not understand court orders; and, perhaps most profoundly, the fact that so many adolescents who use violence have been victims of violence themselves.
These complexities – ones matched by a largely one-size-fits-all response – mean that the issue of ‘adolescent family violence’ has remained largely behind closed doors. It is therefore unsurprising that these complexities compounded when Victorian families were required to remain behind these doors for well over six months.
RESEARCH WITH IMPACT FAMILY VIOLENCE – Stop Press: New Family Violence Evaluation project! Building on the CIJ’s existing work around the legal and service response to family violence, the CIJ was delighted to be appointed to evaluate the exciting new Legal Practice and Resourcing and Allocations Model developed by Victoria Legal Aid in conjunction with the Federation of CLCs. With work commencing in November 2020, the evaluation will span approximately two and half years, during which time the CIJ – supported by evaluation expert, Lucy Macmillan – will collect a wealth of data to measure the effectiveness of the model and, most importantly, the outcomes it produces for people with lived experience of the family violence court system.
The emphasis on lived experience which has been built into the Model design itself, as well as the Evaluation, is a crucial component of the work. Associate Director Elena Campbell, Senior Adviser Riley Ellard and Consultant Lucy Macmillan are already enjoying collaborating with the wide range of stakeholders and Lived Experience Experts who are supporting the Model to lay the foundations for a valuable and meaningful evaluation over the course of the coming years.
PASSION WITH PURPOSE – Spent Convictions Bill 2020 in Parliament Victorian Attorney-General Jill Hennessey introduced the Spent Convictions Bill 2020 into the Victorian Parliament in October. If passed, this legislation will bring Victoria in line with other Australian jurisdictions and will remove some of the obstacles to people’s successful rehabilitation.
The contribution of the Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Project to achieving this outcome has been recognised by many. The Criminal Record Discrimination Project was established to address calls from the community for a response to the issues faced by Aboriginal people dealing with the lack of regulation of criminal records in Victoria, including barriers to employment, and poor justice, health, social and economic outcomes. From the outset, the project reflected the principle that good outcomes can only be achieved with Aboriginal people leading the way.
The project was led by Michael Bell, who convened the CRDP’s Advisory Committee. Christa Momot, former Project Coordinator with Woor-Dungin was central to the community development approach that led to widespread participation and engagement by so many people in working towards this change. Bronwyn Naylor and Stan Winford from RMIT University and the Centre for Innovative Justice led the CRDP working groups which undertook research and developed a law reform strategy that aimed to highlight the injustice and stigma caused by criminal record discrimination for Aboriginal people in Victoria, raise awareness of the inconsistent and unfair effects of the lack of regulation of records, and connect a proposal for reform to the Aboriginal Justice Agreement policy development process.
PASSION WITH PURPOSE – Restorative justice can enhance the rights of people with a disability living in group homes
The justice system can on the one hand fail to recognise serious victimisation as criminal offending when experienced by people with disability, while being unable to imagine alternatives to the criminal justice system in responding to complexity.
People with a disability are over-represented in the justice system as victims and offenders and are failed by the justice system in key respects.
A 2014 Australian Human Rights Commission report found that the under-prosecution of crime against people with a disability can leave victims unsafe while the failure to identify disability or make adjustments to justice interventions can trap offenders with a disability in a cycle of criminalisation and disadvantage.
In effect, the justice system can on the one hand fail to recognise serious victimisation as criminal offending when experienced by people with disability, while being unable to imagine alternatives to the criminal justice system in responding to complexity.
The role of the justice system is particularly complex in the case of conflict and abuse between group home residents.
PASSION WITH PURPOSE – Restorative justice in forensic mental health settings Eliza Hew, a third year Juris Doctor and Masters of Social Work student who completed a credited online internship with Open Circle in the second half of 2020, authored a report on RJ in forensic mental health settings. Historically, people with serious mental illness have not been included in restorative justice practices, with exclusion hinging on the assumption that this population do not have the capacity to meaningfully participate. More recently however, literature suggests that this assumption is unsubstantiated (and discriminatory); there exists significant potential benefits for patients, staff, victims and the broader community.
This comprehensive report considers the key practice considerations of providing any restorative intervention within forensic mental health settings including the risks, challenges and conflict that may arise. The report also details the range of restorative justice options that are available for implementation, drawn from the (few) practice models that currently exist in Australia and overseas. While practice in this area is certainly new, potential benefits are being identified and momentum seems to be growing.
STUDENTS – Social work and Juris Doctor student reflections Placements for RMIT Social Work and Juris Doctor students have continued throughout 2020, albeit from home. Social work student, Anushia Andrews, recently completed her placement at the Law and Advocacy Centre for Women and Juris Doctor student, Katrina Harte, recently completed a placement at the Young Workers Centre.
"Placement at LACW has given me such valuable learning opportunities – I’ve learnt about the intersections between social work and law, how to navigate legal systems, and supports available in the justice system. I learnt a lot about how criminalised women experience intersecting forms of oppression and marginalisation...Before doing placement at LACW I hadn’t considered practicing social work in a legal setting, but now I see legal settings as a valuable setting for social workers to develop our understanding of legal systems, practice holistically and collaboratively, and support marginalised people experiencing interconnected legal and social issues." - Anushia Andrews, RMIT Master of Social Work student
"As part of my Clinical Legal Education I was tasked with creating a resource for the Young Workers Centre which would support their work in educating young people about their workplace rights and entitlements and help the Centre in expanding their online platform and outreach program. For my resource I created a pdf guide for apprentices which provided information about common workplace issues, places that apprentices could find support as well as step-by-step instructions on navigating the relevant legal avenues for apprentices interested in self-representing whist taking action against their employers." - Katrina Harte, RMIT Juris Doctor student
STUDENTS – Juris Doctor student research internship The CIJ is pleased to welcome on board three Juris Doctor students undertaking research field placements. Siobhan Dodd, Cassandra Martin and Rachael Humphris are working across two research projects that will help progress the CIJ’s advocacy work in 2021. Guided in the work by Student Program Manager, Mi-Lin Chen Yi Mei, and Senior Advisers Riley Ellard and Catherine Caruana, the students will have the opportunity to do a deep dive into two pressing social justice issues.
Siobhan, in partnership with Catherine, is reviewing the literature on community attitudes to sentencing and other ‘law and order’ policies that have contributed to the escalating incarceration rates of women in Victoria. This will inform the development of a state-wide survey of community attitudes on women’s offending and the link between women’s histories of sexual and family violence, substance abuse and homelessness, and their criminal involvement. Findings from the survey will be used to develop strategies for effective community messaging on the need for alternatives to imprisonment for this vulnerable cohort, as well as supporting the CIJ’s women’s ‘decarceration’ campaign.
Cassandra and Rachael will be working with Riley to review the existing literature on the needs of children under the age of 14 who come into contact with the justice system, including individual and environmental factors that can push them into ongoing criminal justice involvement, as well as looking at alternative responses to children who engage in antisocial behaviours This work will support the CIJ’s ongoing advocacy to raise the age of criminal responsibility across all Australian jurisdictions. It will also inform the development of a potential future project aimed at providing a robust evidence base for alternative service responses for this cohort. Our aim is to propose strategies that avoid vulnerable children being funnelled into a system that has limited capacity to meaningfully address the underlying drivers of their behaviour, and is itself criminogenic. This work will support the CIJ’s ongoing advocacy to raise the age of criminal responsibility across all Australian jurisdictions. It will also inform the development of a potential future project aimed at providing a robust evidence base for alternative service responses for this cohort. Our aim is to propose strategies that avoid vulnerable children being funnelled into a system that has limited capacity to meaningfully address the underlying drivers of their behaviour, and is itself criminogenic.
‘What I had to say mattered’ — how can we provide justice for sexual assault victims beyond criminal trials? By Bernadette McSherry and Nesam McMillan, The Conversation, 2 December 2020 Featuring Open Circle