Cowra Mayor, Cr Bill West, and Councillor Ms Ruth Fagan, together with distinguished community leaders from the Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, Mr Les Coe and Mr Geoffrey Steele, recently travelled to the Australian National University (ANU) in their role as research reference group members for a Justice Reinvestment research project where Cowra is the case study site.
The Cowra Guardian has been highlighting how the research project has been progressing over the past twelve months.
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.
Focussed primarily on lower level criminal activity, it is underpinned by rigorous economic analysis and requires broad political will, together with consensus of a wide range of stakeholders including the citizenry, bureaucrats, judiciary, media, service providers, non-government organisations. The Cowra research project is testing the methodology that underpins Justice Reinvestment theory.
The Cowra group's trip coincided with a talk given by Professor Mick Dodson AM, Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies at the ANU, on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians.
Professor Dodson, a member of the Yawuru peoples of Broome in Western Australia, was Australia's first Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner and was named Australian of the Year in 2009. He has long been a prominent advocate on land rights and other issues affecting Indigenous peoples in Australia and around the world.
"Despite being the first peoples of Australia for more than 50,000 years, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are still not recognised in the Australian Constitution", Professor Dodson said.
The group met with ANU researchers, including Professor Dodson, to progress planning for a stakeholder forum as part of the Cowra Justice Reinvestment research project.
"We were delighted to be invited to Professor Dodson's talk and to then have the opportunity to meet with colleagues we have been working with over the past eighteen months on the Justice Reinvestment research project," Mr Coe said.
Councillor Ruth Fagan and Professor Dodson will co-facilitate the Forum to be held in May 2015.
"The Stakeholder Forum will be an opportunity to share information and to workshop options. Information sharing as part of the Forum will include feedback from interviews with young people, parents and service providers who have participated in the research project," ANU researcher, Dr Jill Guthrie said.
Cr West said Cowra is very excited to be part of this important research.
"An underlying philosophy of Justice Reinvestment methodology is that the community - so Cowra - 'reclaims' an individual 'belonging' to that community - in other 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 a Community development approach," he said.
Mr Coe reflected on the research, highlighting the importance of the research.
"I see it as a conversation to explore what needs to be in place so that when young people from Cowra who are currently in detention return to town we have all the proper supports in place for them, so they don't get caught up in the cycle of recidivism," he said.
"I welcome the opportunity to co-facilitate the Forum with Professor Dodson, such a distinguished Australian. I am sure our skills and qualities will complement each other," Councillor Fagan said.
To find out more about the research, or express your interest, please feel 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/
-Justice Reinvestment Research Project