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Justice reinvestment across Australia

Most Australian states and territories have taken a keen interest in justice reinvestment and commenced an exploration of it within their contexts. As discussed below, some states and territories have started to implement pilots and research programs to further investigate the viability of justice reinvestment.

In 2012, the Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee held an inquiry into Justice Reinvestment to investigate drivers behind imprisonment, economic costs of imprisonment, the methodology of justice reinvestment and alternatives to detention. Its June 2013 final report, Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia, made the following key recommendations:

  • The Commonwealth should take a leading role in identifying data needed to implement justice reinvestment and commit to sharing data with justice reinvestment initiatives. (supported in principle)
  • The Commonwealth should consider a justice reinvestment clearinghouse to compile, disseminate and promote research and program evaluations in all communities. (not supported)
  • The Commonwealth should adopt a leadership role in support justice reinvestment implementation. (noted)
  • The Commonwealth should commit to a trial of justice reinvestment in conjunction with relative states and territories with at least one trial in a remote indigenous community. (supported in principle)
  • Trials should be based on rigorous justice mapping and robust evaluation process with involvement of local communities.(supported)
  • The Commonwealth should provide funding for the trials. (supported in principle)
  • There should be a central coordinating body responsible for identifying relevant data, developing options for initiatives, assisting with justice mapping and evaluating programs and savings. (not supported)

The Australian Government responded to the Senate Committee report  on 17 October 2017 ( responses to recommendations in brackets above).

The federal Joint Migration Committee  tabled the Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes Report No One teaches you to become an Australian” in December 2017.  The Committee recommended that the Australian Government implement Recommendations 1 to 8 of the Senate Education and Employment References Committee (we assume they mean the “Senate’s Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee“) report on the value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia. (7.117 Recommendation 12)


Below is a summary of the approaches being taken by some states and territories towards justice reinvestment.

Justice Reinvestment projects

Bourke, New South Wales
The Maraguka Initiative in the remote New South Wales town of Bourke is one of the most significant justice reinvestment pilot programs in Australia.

Since 2012, Just Reinvest NSW has worked with the Bourke Aboriginal Community Working Party (BAWP) to address challenges facing young people in the community, particularly around offending and incarceration, while at the same time creating alternate pathways for young people.

Read more:
Just Reinvest NSW, Justice Reinvestment in Bourke Briefing Paper, August 2013
Bourke Justice Reinvestment, Maraguka and Justice Reinvestment, February 2015
Justice Reinvestment: Five Years On Report

More on the Bourke JR project here.
More on the broader Just Reinvest Campaign here.

Cowra, New South Wales
The Reducing incarceration using Justice Reinvestment exploratory case study being led by Dr Jill Guthrie from the National Centre for Indigenous studies at the Australian National University in the New South Wales regional town, Cowra, where 7 per cent of the population is Indigenous.

The research is being guided by a Research Reference Group which represents the Cowra Shire Council, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, NSW Children’s Court, as well as key Australian and international academics.The research project focuses on engaging the Cowra community in conversation about what enables young people to lead meaningful lives in Cowra, and what the cost of prevention versus punitive responses are to criminal justice issues.

Katherine, Northern Territory
The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) and NT Council of Social Service (NTCOSS) received funding from the NT Law Society to explore the potential of using a Justice Reinvestment framework to address Aboriginal incarceration in the Northern Territory, with the focus on young Aboriginal people in Katherine aged 10 to 17 years of age.  Katherine was selected as a suitable NT pilot site based primarily on the level of youth offending and disproportionate incarceration.

Read more:
Katherine – Report on Initial Community Consultations

More on the Katherine JR project and other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander specific case studies here.

South Australia – Ceduna, Port Augusta
The South Australian Attorney General’s department has committed to establishing Justice Reinvestment trials in two locations, one being in metropolitan Port Adelaide.

Separately, Australian Red Cross is facilitating engagement with Aboriginal communities in and around the remote town Ceduna on justice issues for Aboriginal people living in the area. It said in this report that the next phase involves developing a community-owned justice action plan to address the causes of crime in Ceduna. The initiative is linked to the South Australian Justice Reinvestment Working Party which is working with the SA Government on justice reinvestment. The engagement commenced in February 2015 and is funded by the Ian Potter Foundation and Collier Charitable Fund.

Australian Capital Territory
The 2014-15 ACT budget committed to a Justice Reinvestment Strategy, the development of a whole of government justice reinvestment approach aimed at reducing recidivism and diverting offenders and those at risk of becoming offenders from the justice system.

The development of the Justice Reinvestment Strategy involves the Justice and Community Safety Directorate (JACS) working closely with a range of government and community stakeholders, over a four year period (2014-18), to identify drivers of crime and criminal justice costs and then develop and implement new ways of reinvesting scarce resources – both in the community and within the prison system – in a way that results in a more cost-beneficial impact on public safety.

The Justice Reinvestment Strategy supports the Parliamentary commitment to reducing recidivism by 25% by 2025.

The ACT’s approach to JR is multi-faceted. As part of the Justice Reinvestment Strategy a series of existing ACT government JR programs that appear most promising as a means of preventing crime and recidivism have been identified.  Three approaches for justice reinvestment have been developed in the ACT:

  • Place-based; this approach involves understanding the crime reduction and community strengthening impacts of programs and supports that are provided in the same location as the people who need them. An example of this pathway is the High Density Housing Program on Ainslie Avenue.
  • Point in the system; this approach involves looking at crucial points in the justice system, for example arrest, bail and remand, where a change to that part of the justice system could reduce a person’s future contact with the justice system. An example is undertaking restorative justice as a diversion or post-sentence.
  • Cohort; this approach is about focusing efforts on a particular group (such as parolees, persistent offenders or high and complex needs families) who are in constant contact with the justice system and targeting services and support to that group. An example is the ACT Corrective Services Extended Throughcare models of prisoner support.

The first ACT justice reinvestment trial is called Yarrabi Bamirr, Ngunnawal words for Walk Tall.  It involves using a family-centric service support model with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander families to improve life outcomes and reduce or prevent contact with the justice system.  An evaluation framework is being developed by the Australian National University and will commence in early 2017.

The second justice reinvestment trial is a 12 month Bail Support trial designed to reduce the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on remand and reduce the amount of time spent on remand, it will commence by mid 2017.

An ACT Justice System Costing Model is being developed to understand the costs of the current ACT adult and youth justice system from the point of apprehension to post-sentence to establish a baseline cost.

More on the 2016/17 budget here.

Western Australia – Social Reinvestment for WA

Social Reinvestment for Western Australia (SRWA) is an Aboriginal led coalition that advocates for policies that prioritise healthy families, implementing smart justice and creating safe communities for all Western Australians. The coalition comprises of 17 community sector not-for-profits who call for holistic and evidence-based approaches to improving community safety and the wellbeing of families and individuals. It has a particular focus on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander overrepresentation in custody and hopes to achieve parity in incarceration rates by ensuring the underlying causes of offending are addressed.

Read more about SRWA:

Also read WA’s Social Reinvestment model.

Cherbourg, Queensland

Queensland’s Independent Review into Youth Detention in 2016 made 83 recommendations, all of which the Queensland Government accepted. Importantly, recommendation 9 stated that consideration should be given to the implementation of justice reinvestment collaborations between existing community-based services and Youth Justice.

As a result, a Youth Justice led project is currently underway with a ‘proof of concept’ project in Cherbourg to explore the feasibility of implementing a JR initiative. The objective is for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to lead local responses to offending that result in fewer young people from their communities being in detention. A consultant has been employed to work with the Cherbourg community for 12 months to assess the suitability and readiness for a JR project.

Read more here:

Doomadgee and Mornington Island, Queensland

In far north Queensland, there have been a couple of separate JR projects, specifically in Doomadgee and Mornington Island. Some initial research has been conducted in a 2017 study titled Keeping on Country: Understanding and Responding to Crime and Recidivism in Remote Indigenous Communities. The study focuses on Doomadgee and Mornington Island, two remote Indigenous communities facing deep-seated disadvantage. The two main questions the study addresses include the causes of crime and recidivism in these communities and potential responses. A key observation from the research highlights the need to consider the core values, culture and belief systems of Indigenous peoples in responding to underlying causes of crime. The authors also suggest that the findings on the key causes of crime in the communities show how a justice reinvestment approach could be used to develop localised strategies to address over-representation of these communities in the criminal justice system.

Apart from the research projects conducted in these communities, key people and agencies in the community have been working closely together to action JR recommendations that have been made.

Related projects

There are many other projects operating across Australia that do not necessarily have crime prevention or justice reform as a stated focus but are nonetheless making a difference in addressing underlying causes of crime and will inevitably contribute to a reduction in the number of young people coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

A snapshot of place-based activity promoting children’s wellbeing
This report by the Centre for Community Child Health at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and The Royal Children’s Hospital provides an overview of the policies and actors that are driving, doing and supporting place-based approaches to improve children’s outcomes. Over 12 months, the project investigated the Australian place-based landscape to understand how we can better promote children’s wellbeing through place-based initiatives. This publication is one of four key reports produced through the project, and specifically considers Australian child-focused place-based policies as well as initiatives and collaborations undertaken by government and key organisations.

The report includes two tables that provide an overview of this work and its promotion. Table 1 outlines the driving policies, leading practice in communities, contributing research and strategic coordination organisations and initiatives, while Table 2 lists key organisations which support planning, implementation and research into place-based approaches to improve children’s outcomes.

Communities That Care
Communities That Care (CTC) in Australia has been set up under a joint initiative of the Women’s and Children’s Health Network and the Rotary Club of Melbourne, with funding also provided by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation (Vic Health) and a number of philanthropic organisations.

The links below provide background information, guidelines for implementation of CTC policies and programs, and how the CTC process can assist in implementing evidence-based prevention strategies and address challenges faced in implementing effective community-wide prevention services.

Read more:
Communities That Care – Introduction & Guide
Communities That Care Youth Survey Guide
Presentation: Implementing Effective Prevention in Australian Communities
Communities That Care Warrnambool
Communities that Care: Guide to Australian Prevention Strategies

Communities for Children
Introduced in 2004 (as part of the Stronger Families and Communities Strategy) Communities for Children (CfC) is Australia’s longest surviving nationally funded place-based initiative. It has gone through a series of iterations, surviving two changes of government. In 2008 CfC became part of the Family Support Program under a restructuring of community support programs to improve targeting and integration.

Communities for Children is a national place‐based program for children and families in 52 disadvantaged areas and is designed to enhance the development of children experiencing disadvantage.

Aimed now at 0–12 year olds, its objectives are to improve the health and well-being of families and the development of young children, paying special attention to:

  • supporting parents to care for their children before and after birth and throughout the early years
  • supporting families and parents to provide children with secure attachment, consistent discipline and quality environments that are stable, positive, stimulating, safe and secure
  • providing access to high-quality early learning opportunities in the years before school
  • providing early identification and support for children at risk of developmental and behavioural problems
  • assisting parents to stimulate and promote child development and learning from birth
  • supporting children and families to make a smooth transition to school
  • working with local schools to assist children and families with their ongoing engagement with school.

While CfC services are universal, priority is given to families with risk factors.

Opportunity Child
The national Opportunity Child initiative aims to reduce childhood vulnerability through a community based collaborative approach to the education and development of children. Opportunity Child emphasises a local approach and a move towards prevention and early intervention to improve child wellbeing. One of its goals is to build a $30 million capital fund that leverages contributions from community, philanthropy, corporate and government.

Opportunity Child is a collective of eight leading partner communities from across Australia, that are leaders in place-based research, service delivery and practice in early childhood, and philanthropy, and a wider learning network.

Read more:
Game Changer For Child Opportunity – A Bold New Approach
Opportunity Child Brochure

A workshop on Justice Reinvestment projects in Indigenous Communities
A 2015 workshop organised by the Human Rights Law Centre and the Australian Justice Reinvestment Project brought together key people involved in justice reinvestment projects to share their experiences and discuss the challenges they have faced. The workshop aimed to have a practical focus and to support communities in their practical implementation of justice reinvestment projects. This workshop report provides summaries of the key issues discussed and questions relating to community engagement, funding models and the role of the government. An important intention was to develop a strategy about how to best support existing and future initiatives.

Party policies

Australian Greens
The Greens’ Smarter, Safer, Stronger: Justice Reinvestment for Australia plan is to adopt a justice reinvestment approach as a more effective approach to criminal justice, to reduce the number of people in jail and save related costs to the community and individuals.  Part of the Greens’ plan is to invest in establishing a National Centre for Justice Reinvestment and a grants program.

Australian Labor Party
Labor’s Closing the Gap Justice Targets for Safer, Stronger Communities 2016 election policy document outlines the ALP’s plan to introduce justice targets and a justice reinvestment strategy. The policy outlines a national approach to work with the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to introduce justice targets to reduce rates of Indigenous incarceration through the Closing the Gap framework. The ALP plans to:

  • introduce three new launch sites for justice reinvestment projects in a major city, regional town, and remote community;
  • fund a long term study into the effects of the Justice Reinvestment project currently underway in Bourke, and
  • through COAG, establish a national coordinating body to build the evidence base, collect data and measure progress of new justice targets, and to monitor the effectiveness of justice reinvestment in an Australian context.