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Media Release: People with lived experience of incarceration in the ACT set to share their stories as public speakers and advocates

Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 5 April 2024

A first-of-its-kind program supporting and empowering people with lived experience of incarceration in the ACT by developing their skills as public speakers and advocates will see its first graduates recognised in a ceremony in Canberra today.  

Supported by Hands Across Canberra/Chief Minister's Charitable Fund, the pilot Lived Experience Speakers Bureau Training Program, run by the Justice Reform Initiative, aims to break down barriers and better inform criminal justice policy through the expertise and wisdom that only lived experience can provide. 

The first phase of the innovative project – the first of its kind in Australia – has seen seven people with lived experience of incarceration in the ACT/Queanbeyan region undertake professional development in the areas of storytelling, public speaking, political advocacy and media engagement. 

Following graduation today, the group will be further supported in paid public speaking engagements, funded by the project, to share their experiences with local communities and businesses. Through interaction and collaboration, the engagement seeks to improve community understanding to help the ACT break cycles of incarceration.  

A recent report by the Justice Reform Initiative showed the ACT has the highest rate of people returning to prison in Australia, with 80% of all people in prison in the Territory having been in prison before. Additionally, while First Nations people make up only approximately 2% of the ACT population, they make up over one-quarter (27%) of those incarcerated. 

Chair of the Justice Reform Initiative Robert Ticker AO, who will speak at the ceremony on Friday, urged ACT businesses and organisation to hire one of the trained speakers to kickstart conversations and break down barriers in their own workplaces and communities. 

“Every organisation has the ability to create meaningful employment and career trajectory opportunities for formerly incarcerated people, but a lack of understanding about people who have lived in prison often fuels stigma and unhelpful stereotypes,” Mr Tickner said. 

“Work like this helps to break down the structural barriers to employment, while opening potential pathways for people who have been in prison.  

“Through this pilot project, there are now professionally trained speakers in the ACT who are available to speak and educate local businesses and organisations with the kind of knowledge only lived experience can provide - offering unique insights into how the justice system works, the gaps that exist and the solutions that can work for everyone.” 

Josephine, 45, a mother of three who was among the first seven participants, said she felt empowered by the program to publicly advocate for change based on her own experiences. 

“This program gives me hope, and an opportunity that I can do something positive and make change where I know it’s needed. I know what helped me to break the cycle, and this project is among those,” Josephine said.  

Living with a disability and with a history of domestic abuse, Josephine had previously struggled to break the cycle of incarceration due to a lack of opportunity and support when exiting prison. A case conferencing program allowed her the wrap-around support she needed, including occupational therapy, to reintegrate into her community, which led to her being referred to the pilot program. 

“Case conferencing meant instead of being lost when I exited prison, I knew who I could call, I knew who my support was, which I never had previously,” she said.  

“Through my public advocacy now, I want everyone with lived experience of incarceration to have the same opportunity to know where they are going and what they can achieve. I hope it will change people’s lives.” 

The pilot project will continue with a second training program, running from August to September this year, with a total of 20 participants set to receive the training by mid-2025. 

Mr Tickner said the Justice Reform Initiative hoped to see the project rolled out across Australia in the future.  

“Through the success of the ACT pilot, we aim to expand the project to ensure people with lived experience are empowered and represented in criminal justice policy discussions in every jurisdiction in Australia,” he said. 

Expressions of interest for the next round are now open. For more information, visit: 

Media contact: Amy Price 0437 027 156 

About the Justice Reform Initiative 

The Justice Reform Initiative is a multi-partisan alliance supported by more than 120 of our most eminent Australians, including two former Governors-General, former Members of Parliament from all sides of politics, academics, respected Aboriginal leaders, senior former judges, including High Court judges, and others who have added their voices to end Australia’s dangerously high reliance on jails.  

The Initiative is calling for governments around Australia to move away from an entrenched reliance on incarceration as the mainstay of the criminal justice system and adopt an evidence-based approach to deliver better results for taxpayers, communities and people in the criminal justice system.  

The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others. 

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