Last week, I traveled with Emeritus Prof David Brown to New York and Washington DC to meet with many of the key people involved in the conceptualisation and implementation of justice reinvestment in the United States. We were there as investigators in the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project – an Australian Research Council funded initiative housed at the University of New South Wales, The AJRProject is undertaking a conceptual unpacking of justice reinvestment and considering issues around its transferability to the Australian (and Indigenous) context.
One of the questions that we asked JR experts in the USA was what they thought the preconditions for a successful justice reinvestment strategy in Australia might be, based on the American experience. They offered a range of fascinating suggestions, some of which were:
- Have very clear aims, including what counts as success. Is success about particular outcomes (and which ones?)? The integrity of the process? The scope of reforms achieved? Or all of the above?
- Balance the involvement of government, experts and community. For example, get locals involved with data mapping: that way, they can give guidance about what data would be most useful, and the knowledge that arises out of the data wont just be ‘owned’ by the experts;
- Make sure that there is a broad enough representation of stakeholders around the table – not just justice and corrections people, and not just policy makers;
- The timeframe for justice reinvestment programs should be long enough to ensure true community buy-in, allow proper assessment of the impact of policy changes, and to have technical and other support embedded in a location long enough to guide follow through, not just set up;
- Build in independent evaluation of justice reinvestment programs to collect up lessons learned and guide future directions.
Something that emerged very clearly from the interviews is just how valuable the work of the NSW Campaign is. By investing in building strong consensus and vision within a focus community, to be followed, with any luck, by commitment to change from government and other partners, justice reinvestment in Australia is developing its own best practice model. There is a great deal to be learned from American justice reinvestment programs, but at the same time, the Campaign is trailblazing a uniquely Australian version that is true to the foundation principles of JR. These are exciting times in criminal justice reform!
by Melanie Schwartz
Find out more about the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project.
Cover image gratefully sourced from http://bit.ly/1mw13Xj