MEDIA RELEASE 5 November 2020

Supporting rehabilitation - an important step to address the stigma and discrimination of having a criminal record

VALS and the RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice congratulate the Government on the introduction of the Spent Convictions Bill 2020, and we particularly acknowledge the contribution of the Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Project. This legislation will bring Victoria in line with other Australian jurisdictions and will remove some of the obstacles to people’s successful rehabilitation.

Quote attributable to Nerita Waight, CEO of Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are overrepresented in the criminal legal system and are disproportionately impacted by the stigma and discrimination associated with having a criminal record. It is crucial for people who have been involved in the criminal legal system to be afforded the opportunity to gain access to employment and housing. Consigning people to a life of poverty and exclusion due to a criminal record perpetuates cycles of offending, entrenches disadvantage and will only contribute to the shameful overincarceration of Aboriginal people.

This legislation is a positive step in reforming the criminal legal system, and VALS encourages the Government to consider further legislative and policy reforms in relation to criminal records.

Quote attributable to Naomi Murphy, Client Service Officer at Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service:

I am someone who has been discriminated against due to life circumstances beyond my control, such as family violence and intergenerational trauma – out of that trauma I ended up with a criminal record and conviction. This has had a lifelong effect on me, not just as an Aboriginal woman, but as a mother, a worker in the community and an Aboriginal kinship carer. I have been discriminated against numerous times. When I had the opportunity to share my life’s journey, when I got an email inviting me to be a part of the Criminal Record Discrimination Project, I took it, as I didn’t want other Aboriginal mob to face the same barriers that I did.

Now that we will finally have the spent convictions scheme here in Victoria, to align us with rest of country, this will not only benefit wider community, but also the Aboriginal community, as unfortunately the rates of involvement in the justice system are higher.

This legislation will give us the opportunity to self-determine our future and give us a second chance.  

Quote attributable to Michael Bell, Aboriginal Community Engagement Worker, Rethinking Criminal Record Checks Project, RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice; and former convener for the Woor-Dungin Criminal Records Discrimination Project

As the convener for the Woor-Dungin Criminal Records Discrimination Project as a representative of the Winda-Mara Aboriginal Corporation, I appreciate the State’s introduction of the Spent Conviction Bill 2020. Given the continuation of the over representation of Aboriginal people in the Criminal justice system, the introduction of this bill will provide hope to Aboriginal people who have completed their sentences and want to contribute back to community and move on with their lives. I believe this bill can have an impact on a reduction on the recidivism rate within the criminal justice system.

Great for the State to have the courage to introduce this bill and great work to the people and organisations who contributed to the Woor – Dungin Criminal Records Discrimination Project.

Quote attributable to Stan Winford, Associate Director, RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice and law reform working group convener for the Woor-Dungin Criminal Records Discrimination Project:

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. In December 2017, following extensive consultation with community, the Aboriginal Justice Forum at Swan Hill unanimously endorsed the Woor-Dungin Criminal Record Discrimination Project’s call for reform, recommending that the government introduce a spent convictions scheme and anti-discrimination protection. The Parliamentary Committee inquiry chaired by Fiona Patten MP drew on this work, and, crucially held hearings on country to learn about how it was affecting people. The inquiry’s activities built support for this reform across the Parliament. 

We congratulate the Attorney-General, Jill Hennessy MP, and the Andrews Labor Government for finally taking action as this reform will begin to lift the burden of stigma from the lives of many who have been unfairly defined by their past. As Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal supporters of this project have argued, these long awaited reforms will go some way towards providing an opportunity for healing, and will help strengthen communities.

VALS and the RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice note that there is still further legislative and policy reform required, and urge the Government to continue along this positive path. Reforms it should consider include amending the Equal Opportunity Act 2010 to include irrelevant criminal record as an attribute, and revisiting the 5 year waiting period for children and 10 year waiting period for adults, as these periods under the scheme are too long and do not reflect contemporary approaches to criminal justice and rehabilitation. The 12 month review established by the Bill should be used to address these issues.

RMIT University and the Centre for Innovative Justice have recently partnered with VACCHO, Winda-Mara and Woor-Dungin on the Rethinking Criminal Records Project, which will aim to develop resources to support Aboriginal job-seekers with criminal history overcome barriers to employment, and provide practical guidance to employers wishing to hire them.

Contact:

VALS: 
Andreea Lachsz – alachsz@vals.org.au    

RMIT University Centre for Innovative Justice: 
Stan Winford – stan.winford@rmit.edu.au, 0438 080 608