Researchers from The Australian National University (ANU) have teamed up with the New South Wales town of Cowra to explore ways of keeping young people out of the criminal justice system.
For the past two years, the Cowra community has worked with ANU Research Fellow Dr Jill Guthrie on the Justice Reinvestment program, to work out potential new policy approaches to address the underlying causes of crime and improve the lives of both individuals and communities.
The program has culminated in a Cowra public meeting, which considered alternatives to jail and how to better spend around $46 million spent on incarcerating Cowra citizens over the past 10 years.
"The town has enthusiastically engaged with the research over the past two years," said Dr Guthrie, from the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at ANU.
"The Cowra forum decided that about 50 percent of the costs of incarceration - some $23 million - had been spent for crimes which would be amenable to a Justice Reinvestment approach."
Justice Reinvestment would redirect funds into early intervention, crime prevention and diversionary programs and would create savings in the criminal justice system that could be reinvested into the community.
Justice Reinvestment has the potential to reduce crime, offer positive opportunities to young people and to save taxpayers' money.
The Cowra forum was co-chaired by Cowra Shire Councillor Ruth Fagan and former Australian of the Year, ANU Professor Mick Dodson. About 40 people took part, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Mick Gooda.
"We have been working closely with organisations in the town such as the Neighbourhood Centre, Cowra Youth Council, the Police Citizens Youth Club, the schools, health services, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, Headspace, the Mental Health Service, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, Cowra Business Council and many others," Councillor Fagan said.
"As a community, we overwhelmingly felt that crimes such as traffic offences, public order offences, justice procedure offenders and drug offences, could be considered as amenable to a Justice Reinvestment approach," Councillor Fagan said.
She said data showed around $2.3 million a year was spent to incarcerate local citizens for those types of offences.
"It would be great if we could reinvest that money in our community - into a Safe House, a Halfway House, a Homework Centre, skills training, housing the homeless - and similar positive initiatives that address the underlying causes of crime - rather than have our young people sent away to detention," she said.
She praised the Justice Reinvestment program and said it was designed to help the community find better outcomes.
"It made me realise, we don't need to change the world - just our little bit of it," Councillor Fagan said.