Sarah Abell

Aboriginal Legal Services
Summer 2019


Over the summer holidays I was very fortunate to complete an Aurora Internship with Just Reinvest NSW, a non-for-profit organisation that advocates for the adoption of justice reinvestment in NSW.

Justice reinvestment is a concept that originated in the USA to combat high incarceration rates. In Australia, it has been adapted in an attempt to reduce the disproportionate rates of incarceration of Indigenous Australians. JR involves community-led initiatives that better target the causes of crime in Indigenous communities, with a view to keeping Indigenous people out of contact with the criminal justice system in the long term. It also entails policy and advocacy reform to reduce the overall prison population and redirect savings towards community led initiatives.

Justice reinvestment aims to show that the significant funds spent on imprisonment are much better spent investing in community devised and implemented solutions. In NSW, it costs $219 per day to imprison an adult.[1] In Victoria, the cost is not that different –$323.82.[2]

In 2012, Maranguka Justice Reinvestment, supported by JRNSW, began in Bourke, a town in northern NSW that previously had a very high crime and imprisonment rate, particularly for Indigenous people, in order to trial justice reinvestment in Australia. The results have been stark, with significant decreases in domestic violence and adult and juvenile reoffending. In 2017, the town experienced:

  • 23% reduction in police recorded incidence of domestic violence and comparable drops in rates of reoffending,[3]
  • 38% reduction in charges across the top give juvenile offence categories,[4] and
  • 14% reduction in bail breaches.[5]

While I was at JRNSW, I supported the wide range of initiatives they have that assist with implementing and maintaining justice reinvestment projects around NSW. I worked on a variety of tasks including legal research on justice reinvestment programs around the world, assisting with engagement with other communities interested in justice reinvestment, supporting Maranguka Justice Reinvestment and observing interactions with government and other stakeholders in the advocacy side of JRNSW’s work.

JRNSW is not the usual place for a legal internship as its work does not involve representing clients or engaging with the courts. However, I developed a real understanding of how those in the legal sector, particularly non-Indigenous people, can engage with Indigenous people, be they as clients, community members or leaders, in a way that brings about positive change in the criminal justice system. I similarly gained an understanding of the ‘behind the scenes’ policy work that is integral to positive law reform in Australia.

It was a real privilege to participate in the Aurora Program and I would recommend it to anyone, even if you do not ultimately want to go into legal practice. I had the opportunity to be a part of developing effective and innovative solutions to the increasing and disproportionate rates of imprisonment of Indigenous people in Australia. The opportunity to give back to the community in a meaningful way this early in our studies is very special and is not something that arises often. This notwithstanding, I learned many important lessons about working with Indigenous people and the Indigenous sector more generally than if I had not participated.


[1] Just Reinvest NSW, ‘Policy Platform NSW Election 2019’ (Just Reinvest NSW, 2018) <>.

[2] Based on the real net operating expenditure per prisoner per day in Victoria in 2017-18: State Government of Victoria, Corrections Statistics: quick reference (30 June 2018) Corrections, Prisons & Parole <>.

[3] KPMG, ‘Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project: Impact Assessment’ (Just Reinvest NSW, 2018) <>.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.