Cowra will be the site of an exploratory study looking for ways to prevent young people from being imprisoned.
Australian National University (ANU) researchers will engage with the town during the project, which could lead to recommendations for reducing the number of young people in jail.
The research, funded by a three-year Australian Research Council grant, will explore potential use of ‘Justice Reinvestment’, an approach to addressing crime which emphasises concentrating health and social welfare services in areas with high populations of offenders.
Under this approach, which researchers say requires policymakers to take a long-term view, money usually spent on the criminal justice system is diverted to these services, which address the underlying causes of crime.
Research fellow Dr Jill Guthrie said under Justice Reinvestment prison is considered a last resort for dangerous and serious offenders.
“It actively shifts the culture away from imprisonment to restoration within the community,” she said.
Researchers found Cowra an ‘ideal case study site’ due partly to its stable population and middle range crime profile.
It is also suitable because its economy does not benefit directly from a prison.
Working relationships to increase the trust necessary for the study have been enhanced as Cowra Shire Council and the local Aboriginal Land Council met several times with researchers since March to learn more about the project.
“This study is a conversation with the town to explore what are the conditions, the understandings, the agreements that would need to be in place in order to return those juveniles who are incarcerated in detention centres away from the town, back to the town, and to keep those juveniles who are at risk of incarceration from coming into contact with the criminal justice system,” Dr Guthrie said.
“The project invites the entire Cowra community to participate in exploring the issues of incarceration of its young people.
“While we know that the impact of incarceration is greater for Australian Indigenous populations, this research will focus on issues of incarceration of all young people from Cowra, and community options will be explored from a whole of community perspective.”