An Aboriginal Healing Unit (AHU) has opened at Dame Phyllis Frost Centre (DPFC) to provide a culturally safe space and programs for Aboriginal women in custody.

Minister for Corrections Enver Erdogan officially opened the AHU on Wednesday 6 September at an event with staff, stakeholders, Aboriginal community members and Aboriginal women in custody.

The AHU is designed to be a culturally safe and appropriate space for Aboriginal women to reside and undertake tailored, community-led and trauma-informed programs. It aims to reduce recidivism by addressing the underlying causes of offending, using cultural strengthening as a protective factor.

Aboriginal women at DPFC and a community reference group that included Elders and Respected Persons, representatives from key Aboriginal organisations and women with lived experience of prison helped to inform the design of the unit to ensure it supports the needs of Aboriginal women in custody.

The unit provides cottage-style accommodation for up to 12 Aboriginal women. It also includes a sensory room, programs room, quiet space, outdoor cultural area with art-inspired screening and native plants, and a yarning circle featuring symbolic mosaics and a fire pit.

Outdoor spaces feature traditional grasses for weaving, Aboriginal totems for various clan groups and a gum tree to provide leaves for cultural ceremonies.

Yarning circle featuring symbolic mosaics by Aboriginal artist Simone Thomson

Yarning circle featuring symbolic mosaics by Aboriginal artist Simone Thomson

Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation Elizabeth Morgan House (External link) (EMH) will deliver programs and services in the unit and be on site five days a week.

EMH has a long history working with Aboriginal women. They provide specialist family violence services, refuge accommodation, therapeutic support and post-release support to Aboriginal women leaving prison.

The programs in the AHU will aim to address the causes of offending and overrepresentation of Aboriginal women in custody, using healing and trauma-informed approaches with a focus on culture, kinship connections, family and community.

Programs will focus on the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal women at DPFC, and supporting reintegration in a respectful and therapeutic way. Elders and Respected Persons will provide mentoring and support to help Aboriginal women build essential life skills.

Under the Aboriginal Justice Agreement (External link), the Department of Justice and Community Safety is working with Aboriginal communities to consider culturally appropriate, holistic health care models in prisons. The AHU is one example of this.

The new unit also supports reforms to improve cultural safety for Aboriginal people in custody, in response to coronial investigations and the Cultural Review of the Adult Custodial Corrections System (External link).