For over 17 years the Koori Caucus and Koori Justice Unit in Victoria have embraced community-driven innovation to work toward a justice system that is free from inequality.

Their model for a Koori Court has inspired Indigenous courts nationally and internationally. Their latest model for justice reform might just be another vital step in addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the justice system and furthering self-determination.

The Koori Caucus comprises of Koori community members from across Victoria. The group advises and oversees the work of the Victorian government in developing and delivering Koori justice policies and programs, including the work of the Koori Justice Unit.

The achievements of this partnership include the introduction of several Koori Courts to Victoria in 2002 – which have since served as inspiration for Indigenous courts nationally and internationally. These courts administer the law in the same way as any court – but the format of the hearing is different. The defendant can have members of their family sit with them and participate in the proceedings whilst elders from the community are present to advise the Magistrate on the sentence.

Working as part of the Victorian Aboriginal Community Services Association Limited (VACSAL) the Caucus have also shown that developing Aboriginal people’s connection to land, community and culture can heal and divert Aboriginal people from coming in contact with justice systems in the first place.

The reforms driven by the Koori Caucus have always been informed by combining data driven evidence with the deep community knowledge of the diverse Aboriginal groups across Victoria. Long before systems change became de riguer, the Caucus have seen and addressed over-representation as a systemic issue – one interwoven with disadvantage, child protection, and education.

In 2018, despite active reform and the work of the Koori Caucus, through the Aboriginal Justice Agreement, the number of Aboriginal people in Victoria’s justice system continues to grow. Aboriginal adults are now over-represented at a rate of 11 times that of non-Aboriginal adults and Aboriginal women are now the fastest growing population in the system.  With the imperative to close the gap the Koori Caucus embarked on a rapid innovation process to develop a new response with the potential to meet the scale of this challenge – in a Koori-driven way.

Five months of research, design and prototyping with the Koori Justice Unit, Koori Caucus members, front line staff, and government decision makers, consolidated over 100 levers and ideas for reform into 15 opportunities – and then into a new model for justice reform based on five interconnected system initiatives. The model addresses prevention and response. It simultaneously improves the current system while working toward a new Aboriginal-led, decolonised, response to justice: a self-determined justice system.

The process itself focussed on co-design over consultation. TACSI worked as facilitators of the process and translator of Koori Caucus’ voice and ideas into paper before testing and refined those ideas with Aboriginal Community members, front line staff and government decision makers. The result was a set of five interconnected initiatives – each with impact, sustainability and experience considerations – including an approach to systematise ongoing Aboriginal-led innovation in justice across the state.

Over 17 years the Koori Caucus and Koori Justice Unit has built effective partnerships with community, government and other Aboriginal organisations. Now TACSI is privileged to be part of this effort. We believe that the innovations developed by the Koori Caucus represent some of the most vital ideas in justice reform in Australia, deserving of investment from organisations seeking to further self-determination through experimentation with new, nationally-relevant, models.

For the Koori Caucus, this work is simply the next step in their ground-breaking journey. “We’re only getting started, there is so much more to be done.”

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