Public Defenders

Significance of Culture to Wellbeing, Healing and Rehabilitation (2021)

The Bugmy Bar Book is pleased to announce the publication of Significance of Culture to Wellbeing, Healing and Rehabilitation, a report by Vanessa Edwige, registered psychologist, and Dr Paul Gray, Associate Professor, UTS Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research. Both of the authors are Directors of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA).

This report builds upon the work of the Bugmy Bar Book to date concerning establishing the link between experiences of disadvantage and contact with the criminal process, and citing recognised roads to rehabilitation and healing.
The authors express their expert opinions and present a significant body of evidence which establishes that, for Indigenous offenders, rehabilitation approaches which are culturally appropriate and connected to community are more effective in building both individual and community resilience, which, over time, can reduce repeated contact with the criminal process. 
The evidence cited indicates that rehabilitation programs delivered by those that understand and acknowledge the experiences of First Nations communities – in particular, Indigenous-led and -delivered initiatives, consistent with the principle of self-determination – are best suited for this purpose. 
The authors discuss the importance of culturally appropriate and responsive services and programs in addressing social and emotional wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and allowing individuals to build core capabilities within a culturally safe environment, including learning to recognise destructive behaviours, building coping skills, and forming supportive and pro-social relationships, all of which are protective factors against future contact with the criminal process.  

The Bugmy Bar Book hopes that this evidence-based research, and the expert opinions of the authors, will assist legal practitioners in preparing cases, and judicial officers in understanding the barriers to rehabilitation that an individual may have faced in the past, as well as their capacity for rehabilitation in the future. 
The report attests to the importance of sentencing orders which enhance an individual's prospects of rehabilitation by providing for engagement with culturally appropriate services and programs, and enable Indigenous communities to play a role in the healing process wherever possible. The report will be relevant in assisting the framing of sentencing orders, including findings in relation to the structure of sentences, and the crafting of appropriate conditions attached to community-based orders.

About the authors:

Ms Vanessa Edwige is a Ngarabal woman from Emmaville, NSW. Vanessa is a registered psychologist and a Director on the Board of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association (AIPA). Vanessa has worked in Redfern, New South Wales, for the past 22 years, working predominantly with Aboriginal children, young people, families and community providing culturally responsive psychological support for adverse childhood experiences, intergenerational trauma and supporting cultural resilience. Vanessa currently works as a Senior Psychologist, Education, for the NSW Department of Education. Prior to this, Vanessa has worked as a school counsellor, a psychologist for headspace and the dual diagnosis team, a consultant and trainer for the NSW Institute of Psychiatry, NSW Co-ordinator for Aboriginal victims of crime with the NSW Attorney-General’s Department, and as the Senior Researcher for report of the Aboriginal Sexual Assault Taskforce, Breaking the Silence: Creating the Future – Addressing Child Sexual Assault in Aboriginal Communities in NSW, with the NSW Attorney-General’s Department. Vanessa has been writing psychological reports for people who have come into contact with the justice system for the past six years. Vanessa is a member of the independent advisory panel for the Bugmy Bar Book.

Dr Paul Gray is a Wiradjuri man and is an Associate Professor at the University of Technology Sydney Jumbunna Institute of Indigenous Education and Research. Paul has worked in a range of roles focused on the safety and wellbeing of Aboriginal children and young people. Paul has worked as a psychologist and in policy and project roles with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice, and served as the Executive Leader of Strategy, Policy and Evidence at AbSec (NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation), the Aboriginal child protection peak organisation in NSW. In this role, Paul led the development of community-led approaches to child and family wellbeing and advocated for systemic and practice reforms grounded in the rights and interests of Aboriginal children, families and communities. Paul completed a DPhil in Experimental Psychology at St Catherine’s College, Oxford, investigating the relationship between early maltreatment and adolescent social and emotional processes. Paul is also a member of the Family Matters National Leadership Group, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Working Group for the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children, and is a Director of the Australian Indigenous Psychologists Association.