16th Reintegration Puzzle Conference

Perth Convention and Exhibition Centre
1-3 March 2023

Changing Seasons,
Changing Lives

Chris Austin

Indigenous Arts Mentor
The Torch


‘Doing art and telling a story has given me direction and immense pride in using my culture, especially to teach people.’

Chris is a Keerraaywoorrong man from the Gunditjmara Nation of south western Victoria. Chris is immensely proud of his culture and has found creating art and sharing stories has given him direction in his life. Chris believes that through creating art he is sharing his stories and passing it on to the younger generations.

Chris has been an active participant in The Torch’s Statewide in Prison and Community program since 2014. After decades of short prison sentences, he has been living successfully as a professional artist in community, since being last released in 2017. Chris holds the new position of Indigenous Program Mentor at The Torch where he supports the delivery of the In Prison program, culturally mentoring incarcerated artists.

Chris was recently featured in the documentary The Art of Incarceration that won the Best Australian Documentary at the Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.

The Torch: Building hope through an Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community Program

Since 2011, The Torch has been providing art, cultural and arts industry support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria through its Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program (SIAPC).

SIAPC is an arts and cultural program run across all Victorian adult correctional facilities and In Community that aims to address the disproportionately high rates of Aboriginal incarceration The program increases the confidence of offenders and ex-offenders through participation in the arts through cultural strengthening. There is a particular focus on generating opportunities for people to foster new networks and to find arts industry opportunities to increase levels of economic and community participation.
The Torch works within the context of the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement and focuses on the role of culture and cultural identity in the rehabilitative and reintegration process of Aboriginal prisoners.
In a 2018 independent evaluation, it was noted that the recidivism rate of Torch participants was just 11% compared to the wider Victorian rate of 53.4% for Indigenous prisoners and 42.8% for non-Indigenous prisoners.

Participants noted the program offered them:
• Improvements in social and emotional wellbeing
• Cultural connection and strengthening
• Development of artistic skills
• Creating hope for a positive future away from prison
• Financial support

This presentation will outline the impact the program has had on the lives of Aboriginal prisoners in Victoria and the key elements of the program’s success.

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