Plans to expand a life-changing court for First Nations young people have been welcomed by Elders, Indigenous advocates, and legal groups.

The NSW government has agreed to spend $20 million over four years on justice initiatives to help reduce the over-representation of First Nations people in the criminal justice system.

Attorney General Mark Speakman said the package involves significant expansions of the Youth Koori Court, Circle Sentencing in the Local Court, and the Justice Reinvestment program.

According to the Bureau of Crime Statistics, children who participate in the Koori Youth Court are 40% less likely to be jailed than those who go through ordinary sentencing courts, and Aboriginal Legal Service (NSW/ACT) CEO Karly Warner welcomes its expansion to Dubbo.

Ms Warner said the ALS looks forward to working with the NSW Government to ensure the newly announced initiatives are effective.

“Prisons only cause harm and trauma, but we have alternatives that actually work. The Youth Koori Court and the Circle Sentencing Program not only keep Aboriginal people in community rather than in prisons, but they open up access to counselling and services that address the underlying causes of offending,” Ms Warner said.

“We are pleased to receive funding enabling our participation in the new Dubbo Youth Koori Court, but we are yet to be informed of resourcing to enable ALS participation in the eight new circle sentencing locations,” Ms Warner said.

“It is critical that ALS specialist lawyers and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are available for Aboriginal people participating in these programs.”

Circle Sentencing is an alternative sentencing method in which a Local Court Magistrate works with Aboriginal Elders, victims, respected members of the community and the offender’s family to determine an appropriate sentence.

Uncle John Bolt, a proud Bundjalung man who has been involved as an Elder in the Circle Sentencing Program for two decades said he was honoured to be part of this program.

“Over the past 20 years it’s been really strong and positive, giving our community the opportunity to see our young people get a better start in life and stop being incarcerated,” Uncle Bolt said.

Ms Warner also expressed hope that the NSW Government will continue working with the ALS on further initiatives to reduce Aboriginal over-representation in custody and create a fairer, more equitable legal system.

“There are so many promising opportunities in the Closing the Gap process to work together as Aboriginal community-controlled organisations and Government, ensuring that we transform the justice system to be fairer for everyone.”

“Our Aboriginal community-controlled organisations are best placed to deliver the services that will ensure Aboriginal people are strong in community and in culture.”