The Torch Project Wins Fight For Aboriginal Inmates To Sell Art

02/02/2016 11:56 AM AEDT | Updated February 2, 2016 11:56
Lisa Maree Williams via Getty Images

After 40 years of struggle Indigenous prisoners in Victoria will be able to sell artworks as part of an effort to build self esteem and help them integrate back into the community once they're released.

Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett has helped lead the successful push that aims to build self confidence and increase the skills of the state's incarcerated Indigenous population in the hope it will lead to fewer Aboriginal people returning to prison.

Kennett said the change, announced on Tuesday, was well overdue in Victoria.

“For over 40 years, the Indigenous community has been talking to successive Victorian governments advocating for a change to the regulations that prohibit incarcerated Indigenous men and women from selling their artworks, and benefiting from their talent, while in prison," Kennett said.

“Today these regulations will be lifted, assisting many Indigenous men and women in their rehabilitation while in custody, preparing them for a life after jail by giving them access to funds which will allow them to build a better life for themselves on their release."

He said most prisoners were locked up for crimes unrelated to their art.

"So they are not benefiting from their crimes," Kennett added, noting he was confident the change would help former convicts rebuild after leaving jail.

He said a proportion of the money from art sales would be given to the artist, while the rest would be deposited in a trust account to "be accessed on the prisoner’s release".

“This will put Indigenous men and women in a strong position to build a better life back in their communities," he said.

The involvement of prisoners in arts projects has been linked to big improvements in recidivism rates.

One recent project in NSW, the Luther program, has recorded the rate of participating prisoners reoffending and returning to prison after parole at 5.1 percent, well under the national average of 60 percent.

Corrective Services NSW has been sought for comment on whether changes similar to those announced in Victoria are being considered.

Indigenous Australians are 13 times more likely to be imprisoned than non-Indigenous people, while the juvenile incarceration rate for the Indigenous community is 24 times that of the non-Indigenous community.

Kent Morris, a curator and statewide indigenous arts officer for the Torch, has previously said the program is about connecting prisoners with their cultural roots.

"My hope is that these artworks, and the behavioural changes, will go back to the family home,” Morris told The Australian. “When that painting goes on the wall at home, it creates a sense of pride that filters through the family.”

One participant in the program, Raymond Young, has proved to be a revelation. He's gone from prisoner to Indigenous art prize winner, taking out a top prize at the 2015 Victorian Indigenous Art Awards.

Young's From The Ground Up represents a number of ceramic shields with traditional designs from the East Gippsland area carved onto them.

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