Justice Reinvestment Project entering its final year

On Wednesday, March 25, the mayor of Cowra, Cr Bill West, and Deputy Mayor, Cr Ruth Fagan, visited the Australian National University in Canberra, as part of the collaborative research project between the University and the Cowra community investigating alternatives to imprisonment.

Dr Jill Guthrie, research fellow from the Australian National University, is the Chief Investigator on the project, titled Reducing incarceration by testing Justice Reinvestment theory and methodology: an exploratory case study. 

Dr Guthrie delivered a lunchtime seminar, providing an update on the project.

“The abiding message that we as researchers are learning is the need to ‘Hasten Slowly’ when undertaking community driven research. The community has been fully engaged in the research project and this is demonstrated by the ongoing commitment of the Research Reference Group, which includes the mayor and Councillor Fagan and other leading community members including Mr Les Coe,” Dr Guthrie said.

The three year ARC-funded research project - which began in 2013 - sees Dr Guthrie and a team of researchers from The Australian National University working closely with Cowra community members, to explore the theory and research methodology of ‘Justice Reinvestment’ as a way of preventing young people from ending up in the criminal justice system. 

Numerous interviews and focus groups have been conducted with many people at all levels - from service providers to politicians to young people who have been in jail or detention themselves.

In addition to the inter-disciplinary research team from the ANU, the research is being guided by a Research Reference Group comprising representatives of the Cowra Shire Council (Mayor, Deputy Mayor and General Manager) representatives from the Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, the President of NSW Children’s Court, an ANU-based human rights lawyer and US-based JR academic. 

Mayor Bill West expressed his personal and professional support for the research at Dr Guthrie’s presentation and hoped it would help bring about positive outcomes. The goal is that the research will help change current attitudes, policies and approaches to incarceration and alternatives to incarceration. There is currently research occurring internationally which shows the merits of the justice reinvestment approach.

In keeping with the participatory action research design, continuous consultation and workshops with Cowra community members has occurred over the last two years to ensure they are involved in decisions that empower them to explore alternatives to incarceration for their young people. 

“Since the very start, when the research first kicked off in 2013, we have had strong commitment and support from all facets of the Cowra community to the project which is very inspiring to see,” told Dr Guthrie.

This research project is now entering its final year, and the next major phase is a stakeholder forum, being held in Cowra over two half days in late May 2015. The aim of this forum is for the research team to present findings, and to give service providers and community members who have participated in the research to date the opportunity to deliberate and make recommendations for policy and practice. This forum will be facilitated by Cowra Deputy Mayor, Cr Ruth Fagan, and Director of the National Centre for Indigenous Studies, Professor Mick Dodson. 

The research team are still welcoming input into the project and encourage Cowra community to contact them on 1800 010 448 (free call), email cowra@anu.edu.au or check out the website http://ncis.anu.edu.au/cowra/ . 

Of particular interest is those over the age of 16 who are living or have lived in Cowra, particularly those who have (or know someone who has) ever been involved in some way or other with the Juvenile Justice or Corrective Services System. 

-ANU research team