Cowra youth study to benefit community

Mayor Bill West, Mr Geoffrey Steele, Dr Jill Guthrie, Dr Lawry Bamblett, Mr Les Coe, Prof Michael Levy, AM met recently in Cowra to discuss the next phase of the research which includes a Community Forum planned for early 2015.

Mayor Bill West, Mr Geoffrey Steele, Dr Jill Guthrie, Dr Lawry Bamblett, Mr Les Coe, Prof Michael Levy, AM met recently in Cowra to discuss the next phase of the research which includes a Community Forum planned for early 2015.

Cowra is participating in an exploratory study which is exploring the effects of creating a safer community.

The study looks at the potential use of 'Justice Reinvestment,' with the theme being "Cowra's Youth of today helping Cowra's Youth of Tomorrow."

Being conducted by researchers from the Australian National University and funded through an Australian Research Council grant, the project commenced in early 2013 and will run until early 2016.

Over the past few months The Cowra Guardian has been running articles on engagement of Cowra citizens and stakeholders in the research.

Justice Reinvestment is a framework for re-thinking the criminal justice system so that large sums of taxpayer money are not spent imprisoning people for low-level criminal activity.

It requires a systemic, whole-of-government, whole-of-community approach.

Justice Reinvestment has been studied in the United States (where it originated over ten years ago), the United Kingdom and in at least two other Australian towns as a possible solution to burgeoning levels of incarceration. The other Australian trials are in Bourke in far west New South Wales and Ceduna in South Australia.

Focused primarily on lower level criminal activity, it is underpinned by economic cost-benefit analysis and requires broad political will, and consensus of a wide range of stakeholders including the citizenry, bureaucrats, judiciary, media, service providers, non-government organisations.

Members of the research team Dr Jill Guthrie, Dr Melissa Lovell and Dr Michael Levy, AM and members of the Research Reference Group Mr Les Coe, Mr Geoffrey Steele, Dr Lawry Bamblett, the Mayor of Cowra Councillor Bill West, and the Cowra Shire Council General Manager Mr Paul Devery met recently in Cowra to discuss the next phase of the research which includes a Community Forum planned for early 2015.

"We are thrilled with the level of community engagement in the research including the commitment by members of the Research Reference Group who are keen for us to work together towards the Community Forum and others we've met over the past few months of the research," Dr Guthrie said.

"The Forum will be an opportunity to share information and to workshop options. Information sharing will include feedback from interviews with young people, parents and service providers who have participated in the research project."

Workshopping of options will be in the form of a 'Hypothetical' where participants will canvass ideas for how moneys currently spent on young people in detention could be spent in the community, on health and welfare and other services as appropriate.

"An underlying philosophy of Justice Reinvestment methodology is that the community - so Cowra - 'reclaims' an individual 'belonging' to that community - in order words, Cowra as a community takes ownership of all its young people who might be caught up in the juvenile detention system. In this way, it is true Community Development," Dr Levy said.

The study is a 'conversation with the town' to explore issues such as the conditions, the understandings, the agreements that would need to be in place in order to return those young people from Cowra who are currently incarcerated in juvenile detention facilities.'

"The response from the town has been very positive. We really look forward to working more with Cowra citizens and stakeholders in the lead up to the Community Forum in 2015.'

'While everyone we meet through the research is aware that the research is exploratory - which means there is no guarantee of funding coming from it - they are keen to a part of evidence building about the important issue of juvenile justice and keeping young people out of prison," Dr Lovell said.

Anyone wishing to find out more about the research or the proposed Community Forum is welcome to contact members of the research team at the Australian National University on 02 6125 3993 or visit the project website at http://ncis.anu.edu.au/cowra/

-ANU research team

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