Lawyer Teela Reid has big plans for the region and the criminal justice system

A lawyer from Gilgandra wants to give back to the region, reform the criminal justice system and reduce incarceration rates.

Human rights advocate Teela Reid said she had been strongly influenced by Indigenous women and women in the legal profession throughout her life. 

“My mother was an inspiring force in my life. She was a strong resilient Aboriginal woman who raised me and my sister as a single mother. She gave us every opportunity she could for us to challenge ourselves, especially in sport she would work hard to send me everywhere. From Gilgandra, to Dubbo, Melbourne and even the United States,” Ms Reid said. 

Community Legal Education in Dubbo

Her goal is to give back to the Dubbo region by conducting community legal education in schools and in the community.

Areas of law that be included are discrimination, police powers, consent, privacy, consumer, and contracts. 

“Community Legal Education is only part of my job, in addition to case work, but it gives me the flexibility to be in the community and travel home,” Ms Reid said. 

“I think its important work because individuals must first know their legal rights in order to exercise and enforce those rights.

“For instance, a young person who is strip searched by police must understand that police powers are limited. If police conduct their work unlawfully, there are consequences and avenues for individuals to make complaints.”

Criminal justice system

Ms Reid said she was passionate about reforming the criminal justice system because she believes the current process contributes to higher incarceration rates. 

“For example, the increase of prisoners is significantly due to people being on remand, not convicted. 

Ms Reid said she was a champion for JustReinvest NSW which is a model designed to divert resources from the criminal justice system into the community. 

“The cost to lock someone is exponentially more than it cost to rehabilitate them,” she said.  

“The community of Bourke is currently leading Australia on implementing the JustReinvest which is a model developed in the United States.

“One of the purposes of sentencing is rehabilitation, however governments tend to focus resources on deterrence which doesn’t address the underlying causes of criminal behaviour.

“It doesn’t address the fact that communities are over policed or if drugs are a factor contributing  to offending.

“Locking someone up does not address their substance misuse issue or other health related problems. 

Ms Reid said the diversion of resources into rehabilitation was important if “we are serious not only about being tough on crime” and the purpose of sentencing.

“Whether that be to deter them, rehabilitate them or impose an adequate punishment.

“It is time NSW got serious about filtering resources to rehabilitation, which is why I am a passionate advocate for a rehabilitating centre in Dubbo that would service the entire region. 

“The unfortunate reality is that NSW has spent $3.8 billion into building more prisons, the same attention should be given to establishing rehabilitation services and empowering communities to develop diversionary options. Evidence shows that it is cheaper for the tax payer to keep someone in the community, rather than send them to prison.”

Ms Reid said she recognised the occasions where incarceration was necessary but for the majority of offenders they are in prison because they have been refused bail, or waiting for sentencing for minor offences. 

“This is an unjust system and it needs to be reformed,” she said. 

For example the most highly incarcerated cohort in Australia is Aboriginal women - this is an indictment on our nation and ironic given that NAIDOC 2018 is suppose to celebrate the contributions First Nations women make to our society, but how can this be celebrated when they criminal justice system continues to lock us up. 

Because of Her, We Can: NAIDOC 2018

In line with the 2018 official NAIDOC theme, ‘Because of Her, We Can’ Ms Reid said had been influenced by a number of strong women.

“I was raised by many powerful Aboriginal women who have shaped my life; my mother, my cousin Cynthia Rutherford and my aunties. 

“I have also been fortunate to have a strong network of women in the legal profession, although not Indigenous, they have shaped me as a lawyer.

“In particular, Justice Lucy McCallum whom I worked for and Sophia Beckett who is the Deputy Senior Public Defender of NSW. 

Ms Reid said her personal motto was “there’s no short-cut to a place worth going” which is why she was working towards a five to 10 year plan. 

“I am not sure where my legal career will take me, right now I am focusing on developing my legal skills and knowledge.

“I think it’s important for any young person, no matter what career they are pursuing to plan and visualise where they would like to see themselves and the impact they seek to make on the world.”