Breaking the cycle

ANU researchers Len Kanowski (centre) and Melissa Lovell (right), with Cowra local Mr Mark Barron (husband of Linda Barron from Youth Council).

ANU researchers Len Kanowski (centre) and Melissa Lovell (right), with Cowra local Mr Mark Barron (husband of Linda Barron from Youth Council).

A group of Canberra researchers returned to Cowra during Youth Week as part of their research project looking for ways to stop people, particularly young people, from ending up in jail.

ANU Research Fellow, Dr Jill Guthrie said the response from the community had already been a positive one.

"We have been working very closely with organisations in the town including the CLASA Cowra Support Cowra, Cowra Youth Council, Cowra Lions Club, the Police Citizens Youth Club, Cowra High School, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, Cowra TAFE, Headspace, the Mental Health Service, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, Cowra Business Council and many other individuals along the way," she said.

"There were also many individual community members that we met during the week. We were very warmly welcomed by everyone."

"There is much interest in the research and we have had quite a lot of interest from people indicating they will participate in the research. We also expect that young people as well as other community members will tell each other and the research and it will snowball from there.

"We met a group of senior students at Cowra High School and another group of young people at the TAFE College to let them know about the research and its aims."

The researchers also attended a touch football game which was organised as part of Youth Week by Linda Barron and Lisa Robertson of the Youth Council. It was well attended by about 60 young people playing touch, and around 30 other parents, coaches, PCYC and sports tragics.

"We took the opportunity to go the Touch Footy to opportunistically talk with young people about the research, and it did result in a couple of interviews which took place later in the week," Dr Guthrie said.

All of these meetings provided the opportunity for the research team to "encourage conversations" with young people on their experiences of living in Cowra and what makes Cowra 'work' or 'not work' for them, as well as their understanding and experience of the criminal justice system.

The research, funded by a three-year Australian Research Council Grant, will explore the potential of 'Justice Reinvestment,' an approach which emphasises concentrating on health and social services.

It involves all levels of government (Commonwealth, State, local), non-government organisations, service providers, education, health, commercial and justice sectors.

"For this reason, we are actively involving the local Council through Mayor Councillor Bill West. During our visit I met with officers for the Federal Member for Hume, Angus Taylor, MP, and his office has arranged for the research team to meet with him in his Canberra office in May to inform him of progress with the research," Dr Guthrie said.

Under Justice Reinvestment, Dr Guthrie said prison is considered a last resort to be used for dangerous and serious offenders, not for those who have committed less serious offences.

"It actively shifts the culture away from imprisonment to restoration within the community," she said.

Researchers found Cowra an 'ideal case study site' partly due to its stable population and middle range crime profile, and because its economy does not benefit directly from a prison.

The research team are keen to hear from anyone interested in being involved in this study?

The research team would love to hear from you if you are:

n aged 16-24 years and living in Cowra

n Living in Cowra and have ever been involved with NSW Juvenile Justice or NSW Corrective Services system

n Aged 16-24 years, your last address was Cowra, and we're currently in NSW Juvenile Justice or NSW Corrective Services system

n A parent, guardian or carer of any of the above

n A service provider working with any of the above

Dr Guthrie said that the team will return to Cowra again in May for another round of interviews and consultations.

Anyone interested in being involved in the research project or simply interested in hearing more about it is encouraged to contact the research team on 1800 010 448 (free call) or email or check out their website