By embracing participants as artists rather than ex-offenders The Torch provides an avenue for change.
First Nations Australians make up less than 3% of the Australian population yet represent 27% of the national prison population.
In the 25 years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its report, incarceration rates for Indigenous Australians have doubled.
Today Indigenous Australians are 13 times more likely to go to prison than non-Indigenous Australians. Between 2000 and 2010 the Indigenous imprisonment rate increased by 51.5% while the non-Indigenous rate increased by just 3.1%.
Indigenous prisoners are more likely to be on remand and to be serving shorter prison sentences, with many spending less than 1 year in prison. Indigenous prisoners are also more likely to have had a prior period of imprisonment, with males nearly twice as likely to return to prison within the first two years after release.
Since June 2011 The Torch has been providing art, cultural and arts vocational support to Indigenous offenders and ex-offenders in Victoria through its Indigenous Arts in Prisons and Community program.
The Torch supports Indigenous men and women both in prisons and post-release in Victoria to explore their Indigenous culture and identity through practising art.
The Torch’s two major annual exhibitions are Confined and Dhumbadha Munga Talking Knowledge. Exhibitions provide opportunities for participants in The Torch program to redefine themselves as artists and to generate income through selling artwork.
I don’t think you should underestimate the power of culture in the rehabilitation process for Indigenous offenders. We work from a cultural basis to then express that through artmaking — to try to reconnect some of the fragments of cultural dislocation and put the pieces back together.
Kent Morris, Barkindji, The Torch CEO