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Justice James Muirhead Churchill Fellowship to Investigate Strategies to Increase the Cultural Integrity of Court Processes for Aboriginal Young People and Their Families in the Northern Territory Youth Justice System

NCJ Number
Jared Sharp
Date Published
54 pages
This study reviews innovative approaches for improving justice outcomes for Aboriginal people in Canada, the United States, and New Zealand, so as to determine their relevance for justice policies toward Aboriginal people in Australia's Northern Territory.
The basic approach emphasized is to improve the cultural relevance of the justice system to the traditions of Aboriginal people. This includes initiatives that make court less formal, more understandable, more culturally meaningful, and ultimately better able to identify and address the reasons underpinning an Aboriginal person's offending. A primary element of planning in such an approach is to consider initiatives that provide "bridges" between Western and First Nations cultural perspectives and how a contemporary justice process can be more effective as a result. Six key themes emerged from the research. First, improving justice outcomes for Aboriginal people requires identifying policies, practices, and laws that disproportionately have an adverse impact on Aboriginal people. Aboriginal-specific approaches must address this. Second, a justice system that addresses the needs of Aboriginal people must be based on respect for Aboriginal cultural practices. Third, specialist Aboriginal approaches are not separate justice processes for Aboriginal people, but rather the mainstream justice system's adoption of policies tailored to the needs of Aboriginal people; for example, the increased use of Lay Advocates in New Zealand Youth Courts was instituted because the Rangatahi Courts identified their under-use in mainstream proceedings. Fourth, Aboriginal defendants must be involved in justice-system decisions so that they perceive they are being treated fairly. Fifth, innovation and experimentation must be carefully planned, monitored, and evaluated for its impact on Aboriginal defendants. Sixth, approaches to youth justice must recognize the distinctive needs of Aboriginal youth. Recommendations stemming from these themes are offered. 42 references and appended examples of innovative programs for Aboriginal people