Investing in Communities not Prisons

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About the report

Smart Justice for Young People’s report ‘Investing in communities not prisons’ looks to propose solutions that can strengthen Victoria’s youth justice system, community safety and the prospects for young people.

Over several decades Victoria has taken a rehabilitative response to youth crime which has been widely acclaimed by other Australian jurisdictions for preventing offending and diverting children and young people away from the youth justice system.

As a result, rates of youth offending in Victoria have been decreasing since 2010, as have numbers of young people in detention. Victoria also has the lowest rate of children and young people under justice supervision in Australia.

However, the state’s youth justice system has been under strain in recent years and is currently seen by some sections of politics and the media as in ‘crisis’ and in need of ‘tough on crime’ policies that seek to abandon what the evidence tells us are strengths in the system.

In fact, evidence and experience examined for this project tells us that much of the strain in the system is due to a lack of investment, lack of coherent vision and operating model, poor infrastructure, staff shortages, limited skills to deal with complex and changing offending behaviour and critically a failure to address underlying systemic social factors. Children and young people involved in youth justice most often come from communities experiencing entrenched inter-generational disadvantage. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people, and other children and young people of colour and children with experience of the child protection system are significantly over represented in the system.

This report explores the concept and experiences of justice reinvestment in Australia and internationally, including many jurisdictions that faced similar issues and challenges with youth justice as Victoria now is, but looked to different responses.

Justice Reinvestment is vital for Victoria. While interest in and support for justice reinvestment in Australia ranges from a Senate inquiry to innovative projects, Victoria has yet to pilot a justice investment approach. It is fair to say that many existing Victorian programs feature justice reinvestment style features, and there is support for and commitment to the various principles underpinning justice reinvestment within the Victorian Government. However there is less understanding of how justice approaches should interact with other social policy and programs. As a result, investment that could head off the challenges that Victoria is facing is programmatic rather than systematic and not linked up.


This report makes six overarching recommendations to the Victorian Government to commit to and invest in justice reinvestment as an approach to improve Victoria’s youth justice outcomes. The findings and recommendations are drawn from stakeholder interviews and case study interviews conducted throughout the project.

  1. The Victorian Government develops a 10 year, whole-of-system, whole-of-community crime prevention plan that adopts a justice reinvestment approach.
  2. The Victorian Government sets up a justice reinvestment fund and commit to flexible and longer-term investment models and strategies to tackle the causes of crime.
  3. The Victorian Government establish Victorian place-based justice reinvestment pilots (as recommended by the Victorian Ombudsman and the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee).
  4. The Victorian Government supports Victorian communities with the resources and authority needed to ready themselves for a justice reinvestment approach, including program funding that factors in community engagement and relationship development work.
  5. The Victorian Government improves community access and technical support to utilise data (to assist with planning and monitoring of place based approaches), address data gaps and develop a centralised data strategy and statewide data sharing platform.
  6. The Victorian Government develops a tool of measurement and conduct longitudinal evaluation (10-15 years) to measure how justice reinvestment approaches are working.