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Creating alternative pathways for incarcerated Indigenous youth

Last week saw the launch of the landmark Senate Inquiry into ‘justice reinvestment’ that gives the opportunity for submissions from the public towards reforming the criminal justice system in Australia, reports Ruth Skilbeck.

Over the past thirty years numbers in prison have escalated, and now the Australian government is seeking new solutions.

Justice Reinvestment is a new concept and approach to preventing crime, and increasing safety in society, that has proven to be effective in communities in Canada and the US. How it works is by reinvesting money from the criminal justice system into measures to prevent crime by investing in the community to prevent young people from entering the juvenile justice system, and criminal justice system.

Very recently, a new campaign has sprung up to call for justice reinvestment for Aboriginal young people, to break the cycle of imprisonment and recidivism and create social change in New South Wales.

The Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Campaign aims to reverse “the shameful over-representation of Aboriginal young people in the juvenile justice system”. The campaign is based on some sobering facts: 2.2 per cent of NSW population is Aboriginal yet Aboriginal people make up 50% of the prison population. Aboriginal youth make up 5% of the NSW prison population and 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than non-Indigenous young people.

And this is highly costly in monetary as well as social terms: to supervise and care for a young person in juvenile detention costs the State approximately $652 per day, or $237,980 annually (2011 figures).

The Campaign calls for a new approach- by creating alternatives pathways that are more fulfilling, through education and creative arts, and community health and wellbeing programs- and through mentoring support. A new approach of community consultation, based on priorities and needs, that would benefit everyone in the community regardless of their involvement in the criminal justice system.

“There are already some highly effective community leadership and mentoring programs that are making a real difference by positively engaging Aboriginal young people who are at risk of offending. These initiatives are not just more cost effective than locking young people up; they are helping create community cohesion, positive role models, hope and opportunities for a better future for young people.”

The campaign is run by the Sydney-based Justice Reinvestment for Aboriginal Young People Working Group and already has some very influential supporters such as the Governor of New South Wales Her Excellency Professor Marie Bashir, AO CVO; Mr Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner at the Australian Human Rights Commission; Dr Tom Calma, National Coordinator of Tackling Aboriginal Smoking; Professor Chris Cunneen, from The Cairns Institute, at James Cook University and former Chairperson of the NSW Juvenile Justice Advisory Council, and many more.

The group is calling on the NSW Government to commit to a justice reinvestment policy and seeks to establish a Justice Reinvestment Advisory Group that would oversee the changes, the redirection of resources into community, and monitor the level of Aboriginal young people in detention over the next 5-10 years.

Around the world governments are trying out new solutions to mass incarceration, as the old solution, a relic of the colonial age, has been proven to be unsustainable, and to not work, and now the Australian government is considering alternatives beginning with the senate inquiry into “Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia.”

Read the full story here.

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