The public health blog Croakey has launched a crowd-funding project that aims to produce a series of articles highlighting effective solutions for stopping the over-incarceration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In launching the #JustJustice project yesterday, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda said over-incarceration is a “public health catastrophe” and a “terrible waste of taxpayers’ money”.

“We need to shift the dominant narrative, which suggests that ‘lock them up’ policies produce safer communities,” he said. “This is not true. The evidence from around the world tells us that putting people in jail for minor crimes does not create safer communities. But it does create a cycle of incarceration that is tearing apart families and communities.”

The #JustJustice project seeks to raise $27,500, of which 40% will be distributed to community members for sharing their stories about the wide-ranging impacts of over-incarceration and their ideas for effective solutions.

#JustJustice, which brings together a diverse team, can be seen as a type of solutions-based or community-embedded journalism.

#JustJustice team member Summer May Finlay, a public health advocate and Yorta Yorta woman, said she hoped the stories would reflect the reality of what it is to be part of an Aboriginal community, rather than the negative stereotypes she so often sees in the media.

“I want to make sure that when we’re talking about justice, that we’re actually talking about it from our perspective, and we’re looking at what’s really happening,” Finlay said.

“I want people to understand the effects that removing someone from their family has — not just on that individual, but the flow-on effects because that person has a connection to a whole range of other people.”

The series will also investigate the impacts of policies like justice reinvestment and what difference it could make to have “justice targets” as part of the Closing the Gap agenda.

Gooda, who says tackling over-incarceration is one of the most important issues on his agenda for the remaining two years of his appointment, would also like to see wider use of alternatives to imprisonment for unpaid fines, and better access to interpreters expert in the justice system.

“There are countless stories of people ending up in jail without understanding what’s just happened to them. If people don’t understand the charges they’re facing, how can they instruct their lawyers and get a proper defence?” he said.

Gooda said police services could also be learning from work in the health sector to improve the cultural competence of health professionals: “We need to be talking with the police services around Australia about issues like unconscious bias.”

Croakey moderator and journalist Marie McInerney, who has been attending a prison health conference in Geraldton this week, said health and justice workers there were frustrated at having to apply one-size-fits-all solutions to local issues and at the lack of indigenous control over policy and programs.

“We also heard about a lack of resourcing that saw one Roebourne health worker struggling with a caseload of 300 ex-prisoners,” McInerney said.

“Communities want to be innovative, particularly around cultural issues, such as keeping offenders and prisoners in their local areas doing meaningful cultural and community work instead of locked up hundreds of kilometres away.”

The conference also heard about the need for effective, community-led solutions to address the drug ice in regional communities, the need to keep remote WA communities open, and the need to better identify and care for indigenous offenders with foetal alcohol syndrome disorder and other cognitive disabilities.

I am delighted that Crikey will support the project by running a series of the #JustJustice articles.

Please consider funding the project — you can read more about our team and the rewards on offer here.

*Croakey acknowledges and thanks Sandy Davies, chairman of the Geraldton Aboriginal Medical Service, for funding Marie McInerney’s travel and accommodation costs to attend the Prison Health conference.