Community validation study of OARS Aboriginal halfway house

Criminology Research Council grant ; (14/82)

In 1976 a halfway house for Aboriginal ex-offenders, known as Karinga Hostel, was established by the Offenders Aid and Rehabilitation Service to accommodate up to eight Aboriginal youths and men. At that time some 154 objections had been raised against the hostel's establishment by local residents in the Adelaide suburb of Payneham. In 1983 an attempt was made by two researchers, Dr K. Rigby and Ms M. Mune, to describe the impact of the hostel on the community during the seven years of its history. A 58-page report is now available. The main features are summarised below.

A sample of 113 of the residents living relatively close to Karinga were interviewed. Of these, 35 indicated that they had protested against the hostel's establishment in 1976. Most of these 'protesters' recalled having been originally anxious and fearful both for their own safety and that of others. However, by 1983, those fears or worries had become significantly reduced: only 29 per cent of such respondents were experiencing some feeling of threat. At that stage the judgments made by the 'protesters' concerning the Karinga project tended to be similar to those made by residents who had not protested.

In general, the conduct of the occupants of Karinga was not seen as different from that of other people in the local community. Only 8 per cent of the respondents judged their conduct to be 'worse than most'. A minority (19 per cent) saw the neighbourhood as having become 'less pleasant' because of Karinga. Although some residents would have preferred the Karinga Hostel to have been established 'elsewhere', there was a broad acceptance of the project and support for the way it had been managed.

Community opinion suggested a widespread belief that it was difficult to help many prisoners to reform, especially Aboriginals. At the same time there was considerable support for the idea of halfway houses. Racist views about Aboriginals were comparatively rare, but many respondents were pessimistic and uncertain about how white society could improve the situations for Aboriginals.

The main implications for this study are, first, that projects like Karinga must expect resistance from residents who are genuinely fearful and not necessarily racist or punitive in their social attitudes. These fears need to be acknowledged, however irrational their bases might be. The findings of this study that such fears are very likely to subside with the passage of time should increase one's confidence in offering reassurance. Nevertheless, it was evident that residual fears and suspicions expressed by a minority could easily grow and spread if any untoward incident involving residents of the hostel were seen to occur. The utmost vigilance and care on the part of hostel staff and management are essential. Finally, although 'racism' was not seen as a major factor in this inquiry, there were, nevertheless some intolerable examples of prejudice, e.g. 'Aboriginals should be in the wild where they belong. Give Australians a chance'. The need for continual community education in the area of race relations is clearly vital.