The Aboriginal Services Unit (ASU) was established in 1995 as a result of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). It was recognised that in order to respond to the Royal Commission recommendations it was necessary to establish the required resources to monitor the outcomes.
The ASU is responsible for advising and developing the provision of culturally appropriate services to Aboriginal prisoners and offenders, and is a significant contributor to policy development for the management and rehabilitation of Aboriginal offenders.
The Unit actively participates in the development of partnerships and support for Aboriginal community organisations and other Government departments, in the provision of services for Aboriginal offenders.
Aboriginal offenders require special attention in any correctional system because of their culture and high level of representation. In the South Australian system, Aboriginal offenders come from urban backgrounds and traditional lands in the far north and western areas of the State. The ASU develops and implements policies and practices applicable for managing these offenders and liaising with key advocacy groups.
Culturally competent programs and services are critical to reducing re-offending by Aboriginal offenders and improving outcomes for Aboriginal people.
The latest Report on Government Services, released 28 January 2011 indicates the average daily Aboriginal imprisonment rate in South Australia as 23% in 2009-10 (this is 3% below the national average of 26.1%). The Department has therefore put a number of strategies in place. These include:
- providing programs for rehabilitation that are culturally competent;
- the employment of Aboriginal Liaison Officers;
- the construction of ‘Pakani Arangka’, an Aboriginal accommodation unit at Port Augusta Prison;
- focusing on literacy and numeracy;
- recruitment and retention strategies for Aboriginal staff; and
- maintaining an Aboriginal Services Unit.
The Aboriginal Services Unit also coordinates the Prevention of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Forum, which is held every six weeks at different prisons.
This Forum is directly focused on achieving better outcomes in reducing reoffending and ensuring ongoing commitment to the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (1991).
It is chaired by the Chief Executive and provides an opportunity for Aboriginal prisoners to communicate issues important to them.
As a result of these strategies, Aboriginal deaths in custody have drastically decreased. Up to 14 June 2011, there has only been one death of an Aboriginal prisoner as a result of suicide since 2003. DCS provides a wide range of services to Aboriginal prisoners including:
- access to all programs developed for all prisoners; and
- access to special programs specific to Aboriginal prisoner needs such as:
- Violence Prevention Program - modified to ensure culturally appropriate;
- spiritual programs involving Aboriginal Elders to promote healing; and
- Aboriginal Health Services, through the Department’s partnership with Nunkuwarrin Yunti.
As at May 2011, the Department has 67 Aboriginal/Torrens Strait Islander employees, which is approximately 4.1% of all Departmental employees, well above the State’s Strategic target of 2%.
In October 2001, the Department firmly established its commitment to reconciliation with Aboriginal people with the signing of a Declaration of Reconciliation.
In June 2011, The Department reaffirmed it’s commitment to reconciliation with a renewed Declaration of Reconciliation.