As part of an innovative research project exploring how to keep people away from the criminal justice system, researchers from the Australian National University returned to Cowra recently to hear from local community members and service providers.
Dr Jill Guthrie, Dr Phyll Dance, Dr William Fogarty, Dr Cressida Fforde, Mr Len Kanowski and Ms Corinne Walsh spent five days in Cowra conducting face-to-face interviews and focus groups with a range of people, including senior school students, school and TAFE teachers, hospital and health workers, mental health workers, PCYC staff, the Aboriginal Land Council, the Shire council, judiciary, Centrelink, youth workers, and local residents.
The visit marked the second fieldwork trip as part of the three year Australian Research Council-funded research project. The project kicked off in December 2012, and a number of visits were made to Cowra in 2013 to bring the community on board, obtain ethics approvals, and plan how to recruit participants into the research. Posters, pamphlets and a website have aided in spreading the word about the project. Data collection began this year with the first fieldwork trip conducted in April.
ANU Research Fellow, Dr Jill Guthrie, who is leading the project, said her team has gained valuable first-hand evidence through talking to key community members including young people about living in Cowra and what can be done to prevent its youth from getting into trouble.
"Service providers and community members have given us a wealth of useful information and we are beginning to identify common themes. It is clear that there are many positive influences in the town and people are passionate about working with young people. A very exciting outcome is the formation of a Youth Group from a meeting with Erambie Community members. We also know, however, that when any young person is enduring turmoil or rapid change in their lives, or does not have meaningful, sustainable things to engage in, they are likely become involved in troublesome activities which put them at risk of coming into contact with police and the justice system," Dr Guthrie said.
"The community is fully aware of what's working and what isn't. We've heard consistent messages from all sectors in Cowra. What is clear is that detention or gaol rarely has positive outcomes for any party involved. The aim of our project is to explore effective alternatives to prison which ought to be invested in, such as better, more-integrated services, and holistic and long-term initiatives which address the underlying reasons why a person gets into trouble in the first place," explained Dr Guthrie.
The research team were fortunate enough to meet with senior students at St Raphael's High and Cowra High including several graduates of the very successful Breakaway Program and key people currently involved in running the program.
The research team expressed sincere thanks to all those who have participated in the research project to date, adding that everyone has been extremely positive, enthusiastic and cooperative.
The research teams plans to make a few more trips to Cowra this year and are keen to talk to as many people as possible, especially young people. They welcome enquiries from anyone interested in the research to contact the research team on 1800 010 448 (free call), email firstname.lastname@example.org or check out the website http://ncis.anu.edu.au/cowra/ if you are over the age of 16 and are living/have lived in Cowra, particularly if you or someone you know has ever been involved with the Juvenile Justice or Corrective Services System.