The first major justice reinvestment project in Australia is happening in Bourke, a small town in north-west NSW.
Since 2013, Just Reinvest NSW has been working in partnership with Maranguka to develop a justice reinvestment framework for Bourke.
Bourke is a remote town located 800kms northwest of Sydney, situated on the Darling River. The town’s location forms part of a traditional boundary area for the Ngemba, Murrawarri, Budgiti and Barkinji Tribal Groups. As a result of past government Aboriginal specific policies such as forced relocations and removals in the 1920s, today there are 21 different Tribal Groups living in Bourke. There are 2,465 people living in the Bourke Shire of which 762 people are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (approximately 30.9%). The median age of Bourke’s Indigenous population is 25 years, approximately 33.7% of which are children aged 0 to 14 years and 4.7% are aged 65 years or over.
The Maranguka Justice Reinvestment project emerged as Bourke was concerned about the number of Aboriginal families experiencing high levels of social disadvantage and rising crime. Bourke has worked for many years to develop a model for improving outcomes and creating better coordinated support for vulnerable families and children through the true empowerment of the local Aboriginal community. Maranguka, meaning ‘caring for others’ in Ngemba language, is a model of Indigenous self-governance which empowers community to coordinate the right mix and timing of services through an Aboriginal community owned and led, multi-disciplinary team working in partnership with relevant government and non-government agencies.
Over $4 million each year is spent locking up children and young people in Bourke. Local community members have had enough.
“Kids were being taken away. Too many of my community were being locked up. Families were being shattered, again and again,” says Alistair Ferguson, locally born and bred and now overseeing the justice reinvestment project in Bourke. “And this was happening despite the huge amount of money government was channelling through a large number of service organisations in this town.”
“So we started talking together. We decided that a new way of thinking and doing things needed to be developed that helped our children. We decided it was time for our community to move beyond the existing service delivery model,’ says Alistair, ‘a model which had clearly failed.’
“We developed the Maranguka proposal with a clear focus on creating better coordinated support to vulnerable families and children in Bourke through community-led teams working in partnership with existing service providers, so that together we could look at what’s happening in our town and why Aboriginal disadvantage was not improving, and together we could build a new accountability framework which wouldn’t let our kids slip through.”
“And then we heard about justice reinvestment and it was like all the stars suddenly aligned,” said Alistair.
The first stage of the justice reinvestment project has focused on building trust between community and service providers, identifying community priorities and circuit breakers, and data collection.
Regular meetings have been held with Bourke community members and visiting and/or local representatives from most government departments. Government attendance and ongoing commitment towards exploring alternative means of service delivery during this time has gone a long way towards building a better relationship between community members and the government. It is looking more and more like a partnership.
The local community has spent a lot of time thinking about how to reduce offending and make the community safer. They have identified and are in the process of implementing, in partnership with local service providers, a number of cross-sector initiatives or ‘circuit breakers’ to achieve this, including three justice circuit breakers addressing breaches of bail, outstanding warrants and the need for a learner driver program in Bourke.
Data has been collected to tell a very big story about a young person’s passage through the criminal justice system in Bourke and how the community is fairing in terms of offending, diversion, bail, sentencing and punishment, and re-offending rates. Data has also been collected on the community’s outcomes in early life, education, employment, housing, healthcare, child safety, and health outcomes including mental health and drugs and alcohol. The data has been handed over to community members through community conversations held by local facilitators, and community feedback was recorded and fed back to the Bourke Tribal Council. This feedback, together with the data, informed the development of goals, measures and strategies for the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project reflected in the document Growing our Kids Up Safe, Smart and Strong, was developed by the Bourke Tribal Council.
During the implementation phase over 3 years (2016 – 2019), economic modelling will be undertaken to demonstrate the savings associated with the strategies to be identified by the community and local service providers to reduce offending amongst children and young people.
Collective Impact Model and Governance
The justice reinvestment project in Bourke is being designed and delivered using a collective impact approach.
Collective impact is the commitment of a group of actors from different sectors to a common agenda for solving a complex social problem. The underlying premise of collective impact is that alone, no single individual or organisation can create large-scale, lasting social change. “Silver bullet” solutions to systemic social problems do not exist; they cannot be solved by simply scaling or replicating one organisation or program. Strong organisations are necessary but not sufficient for large-scale social change.
Key elements of justice reinvestment include the need for it to be place-based, data-driven, supported by a centralised strategic body, and with fiscally sound and targeted measures. What collective impact offers is a more detailed roadmap, which will be critical in developing what we call ‘the Australianisation of justice reinvestment’. Using this roadmap, cost savings are able to be realised not only through the diversion of resources from Corrective Services and Juvenile Justice, but through the realignment of existing programs and services to reduce duplication and increase efficiency. These cost savings will then kick-start the justice reinvestment approach. The resulting savings to the Corrective Services and Juvenile Justice budgets will be the basis of its continuation.