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Introduction to justice reinvestment in Victoria

Smart Justice for Young People’s project, Building the case for youth justice reinvestment, is investigating the potential of justice reinvestment as an alternate approach to justice and crime prevention in Victoria.

Here in Victoria we have had calls from both the Victorian Ombudsman Deborah Glass and Victoria’s Deputy Chief Magistrate Jelena Popovic to explore justice reinvestment as an alternative, long term criminal justice approach and to learn lessons from other jurisdictions.

While Victoria does not have a justice reinvestment pilot as such, there is significant investment in and work going on in Victorian communities that has some features of a justice reinvestment approach and show how it can strengthen communities and reduce youth offending.

Many of these community initiatives (including enhanced maternal and child health care services, early childhood education, programs to keep at risk young people engaged in school, drug and alcohol abuse treatment) do not necessarily have justice reform as a stated focus or outcome, yet they are 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.

Below are some examples.

Map of Justice Reinvestment-like Projects in Victoria

Case Studies

Go Goldfields
A multi-sectorial partnership called the Go Goldfields Alliance uses a community-driven, Collective Impact approach designed to fight entrenched social disadvantage in the Central Goldfields region in central Victoria and implement a series of shire-wide, community-driven approaches to improve social, education and health outcomes for children, youth and families. Central Goldfields Shire is located about 60 kilometres north of Ballarat and has rated at the bottom of the list of local government areas in Victoria on many health and social indicators.

Read the evaluation report of the Go Goldfields Alliance.

Doveton College
Doveton College opened in January 2012 and is a community focused school catering for families and children, prenatal to Year 9. It offers a fully integrated wrap-around service model of education and care, including early learning, family support, maternal and child health, child safety, schooling and adult education.

It is a world-leading experiment in education that has been partly inspired by the Andre Agassi College Preparatory Academy in Las Vegas and the work of the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York, and is a public school part-funded by philanthropy.

The college has a strong focus on early learning, early assessment, intervention and prevention. It creates a school-community relationship that becomes a tool to identify and address local needs of children.

Doveton is a deeply disadvantaged area. It sits in the lowest quintile under the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) Index with a paucity of stable housing, high rates of unemployment and entrenched inter-generational poverty.

Read more:
Together We Can Make a Difference – Doveton College
Doveton College – The Journey Continues

Mornington Peninsula Shire
Mornington Peninsula Shire (MPS) has been running a long term community prevention program since 2002 called Communities That Care (CTC). Back in 2002 the region had one of the highest rates of youth substance use and related problems in Victoria.  Youth surveys were completed by secondary school students in the Shire in 2002 as part of the first cycle of CTC. Local consultations then identified priority risk factors for action and prevention plans were developed. Follow up surveys in 2007 and 2012 revealed reductions in the targeted youth behaviours (e.g. illicit drug use) and risk factors (e.g. favourable attitudes to alcohol and drug use, family conflict).

Read more: Mornington Peninsula CTC Summary

Community based Koori Youth Justice Initiatives (Warrnambool)
The Barwon South West region Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) has overseen 10 years of community partnership work in Warrnambool, on the south-western coast of Victoria. It has culminated in a 45 per cent reduction in the numbers of Koori young people on youth justice orders, down to nil for a period of 18 months over 2013 and 2014.

The whole of community response centred around a range of initiatives, strong partnerships and working relationships between Koori workers, Koori organisations and networks, families, schools, police, and youth justice workers, that enabled pro-active and early intervention with children and young people at risk and their families.

Read more: Western District Good Practice Case Study Report

Neighbourhood Justice Centre
Australia’s first comprehensive community justice model iniative, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC), is a community court providing new ways of dealing with crime, safety and disadvantage in the inner-Melbourne City of Yarra, an area characterised by high levels of social disadvantage and high crime rates.

NJC engages the community in identifying problems and generating solutions. It emphasises the importance of stable families, good neighbours and friends, and effective community and social groups in providing the foundations for safety in a community, rather than formal systems such as the criminal justice system.

NJC has achieved significant improvements in community order compliance and recidivism.

Read more:
Reflections On Practice – The First Six Years
Trends and Issues – Evaluating Neighbourhood Justice

Australian Institute of Criminology research on community justice
Trends and issues: estimating the costs associated with community justice reports on research by the Australian Institute of Criminology that seeks to address the ‘value for money’ debate regarding community justice programs. It compares the costs of the Neighbourhood Justice Centre (NJC) court and client services with mainstream programs operating within the Magistrates’ Court. The research finds that the average case costs of the NJC are higher than mainstream curt processes, but more efficient. The paper provides possible explanations for this finding.

More on the Australian Institute of Criminology research here.

Government Policies and Programs

Current Victorian Government policy is moving in the right direction. The Government continues to commit to a range of early intervention and prevention policy and invests significantly in programs that aim to address the causes of and risk factors behind youth offending.

The statement Communities are the key: stop crime in its tracks outlines the Government’s crime prevention plan, which includes new and expanded grants to assist communities to target the underlying causes of crime and address new and emerging crime trends.

However much of its investment is not linked up, and is programmatic rather than systemic. A focused whole-of-system approach, strategy or plan would clearly connect policy and funding in education, health, child protection, and youth and family support to crime prevention and other justice responses to youth crime.

Future reform and investment focus in youth justice should be even more heavily weighted in favour of supporting family, health, education, community development and ultimately greater socioeconomic equity – for youth crime primarily has its origins in these intersections.

Crime prevention

Justice reinvestment is effectively a crime prevention strategy. While Victorian Government policies and programs do not adopt the language of justice reinvestment, they increasingly feature justice reinvestment principles.

“Place-based crime prevention uses existing community knowledge about crime problems to identify and develop appropriate crime prevention approaches. These approaches target the causal factors of crime such as social disadvantage by investing in social capital. By empowering the community to build social cohesiveness, place-based crime prevention also contributes to overall community health and wellbeing.” Ben Carol, Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Community Crime Prevention Program Review (2016).

The Victorian Department of Justice Community Crime Prevention Framework outlines how the Victorian Government will collaborate with and support councils and community-based organisations to deliver local crime prevention initiatives. It focuses on engaging the community in effective crime prevention action.

The framework provides a brief overview of crime prevention theory and current activities. It sets out the Victorian Government’s objective, guiding principles, strategic priorities and key actions for building the capacity of local communities to prevent crime. They include:

Place-Based Targeted Grants Program
11 locally based partnership projects launched in September 2015 are working to reduce the risks of crime and increase community safety in nominated areas experiencing high rates of crime and disadvantage.

They share $2.2 million in targeted grants to fund evidence-based or best practice approaches to addressing local community safety priorities, to assist communities to target the underlying causes of crime and to address new and emerging crime trends.

The grants have a focus on more vulnerable members of our community, including young people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Directed Youth Grants
$8 million over two years to address issues for young offenders as well as young people at risk of offending in 8 locations (Hume, Wyndham, Ballarat, Geelong, Frankston, Casey, Latrobe, Greater Dandenong), including $1.5 million targeting Koori young people in 9 Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) regions. The funds are directed to:

  • Funding local community partnerships to leverage intensive support initiatives that reduce re-offending and prevent criminal justice engagement.
  • Supporting partnerships to develop and deliver tailored evidence-based initiatives, leveraging and complementing existing investments.
  • Working with key agencies (government agencies, local councils, schools, Magistrates, community organisations) to identify:
    • Local needs linked with young people offending in that area
    • Suitable, established community partnerships
    • Existing initiatives appropriate for leveraging

Competitive Place based Youth Grants
$2 million over two years to target general risk and protective factors in 10 locations with high numbers of young offenders (Mildura, Greater Dandenong, Greater Shepparton, Wodonga, Darebin East Gippsland, Cardinia, Melton, Brimbank, Horsham).

The focus is on building sustainable partnerships, proposing evidence-based solutions that include young people, and working across government to ensure funded projects complement existing programs.

Communities that Care
The evidence-based Communities that Care program is currently being funded in five locations across Victoria:

  • Northern Geelong (Geelong-Lara-Norlane-Corio)
  • Cardinia Shire
  • Warrnambool
  • East Gippsland
  • Bendigo

The programs engage the community in developing a risk profile of the area that guides a coordinated community response and leads to an action plan and measures to build the capacity of communities to implement their priorities.

Principal goals of the program are to:

  • support and strengthen families
  • promote school commitment and success
  • encourage healthy and responsible behaviour
  • achieve a safer, more cohesive community.

Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement
Through the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement (AJA), the Victorian Government and the local Koori community are committed to improving Koori justice outcomes and reducing negative contact with the criminal justice system.

The AJA partly aims to address the ongoing issue of Koori over-representation within all levels of the criminal justice system.

Through the development of the Regional Justice Plans by the Regional Aboriginal Justice Advisory Committee (RAJAC) Network, the importance of state-wide and local community-based projects is clear. The Government has responded by providing community grants to community organisations for initiatives.

There are nine RAJACs: (Barwon South West, Grampians, Hume, Loddon Mallee, Gippsland and Northern, Western, Southern and Eastern Metropolitan) and they play an important role in implementing and monitoring AJA initiatives.

Read more: Understanding the Victorian Aboriginal Justice Agreement

Vulnerable children

Roadmap for Reform
The Victorian Government’s Roadmap for Reform: Strong Families, Safe Children, launched in April 2016, arose out of recommendations from the Royal Commission into Family Violence and sets out a broad agenda for early intervention and prevention, and community-focused service integration focused on:

  • strengthening communities to better prevent neglect and abuse
  • delivering early support to children and families at risk
  • keeping more families together through crisis
  • securing a better future for children who cannot live at home.

A key submission from the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) to the Roadmap for Reform discusses the long term harm for children exposed to abuse and neglect. The submission notes that too often families only begin to engage with the system in times of crisis. It argues that the best ways for government and the community to foster children’s healthy development is to invest in prevention and early intervention strategies. Included in this broader goal of intervention is a recommendation for the adoption of a justice reinvestment model.

Victoria’s Vulnerable Children 
The 2013 report on Victoria’s Vulnerable Children: our shared responsibility was developed by the former Coalition State Government in response to the findings of the Protecting Victoria’s Vulnerable Children Inquiry. The strategy was designed to drive broad-based change required across government(s) and in the community.

Children and Youth Area Partnerships
Children and Youth Area Partnerships are a Victorian Government initiative intended to facilitate shared responsibility between government departments, local government and the community sector and to build collective effort to ensure vulnerable children and young people are kept safe from harm and have every opportunity to succeed in life.

They look to establish new ways of working at the local level to more effectively join-up social services in Victoria at a system level to support better outcomes for vulnerable children, young people and their families.

Eight Area Partnership launch sites have been established across Victoria: Central Highlands, Inner Gippsland, Mallee, Loddon, Outer Eastern Melbourne, Ovens Murray, Southern Melbourne, Western Melbourne.

They bring together senior representatives in a local area from State, Commonwealth and local governments, the community sector and the broader community, who are most able to make a difference for vulnerable children, young people and their families.Two main priorities have been identified:

  1. Supporting learning and development of all young people and children.
  2. Creating safe and supportive communities and environments for children to live free of abuse and neglect.

Read more:
Children and Youth Area Partnerships Overview
Innovative Local Partnerships Extended To Improve Lives

Education engagement

The government has also made further investment in education for young people to ensure that they have the best start in life and reduce their risk of developing antisocial or offending behaviour. The best defence against crime is the power of education and the dignity of work. Therefore the government has invested in work readiness amongst Victorian youth, supporting training, education, employment services and other tools to give these young adults the best opportunities in life”. – Ben Carol, Community Parliamentary Secretary for Justice, Crime Prevention Program Review (2016).

The Education State
The 2015/16 State Budget included almost $4 billion in additional funding for early childhood, schools and training to make Victoria “the Education State”. One of the targets includes ensuring more students stay in school and eliminating the connection between outcomes and disadvantage.

Lookout Education Support Centres
The Victorian Government’s new LOOKOUT Education Support Centres employ education and allied health staff to give children and young people in out-of-home care a better chance of doing well in their education.

Four LOOKOUT Centres are being set up to assist at risk children and young people through:

  • professional development with staff and carers
  • advice to schools to support individual students
  • challenging enrolment decisions that aren’t in a student’s best interests
  • facilitating opportunities for students to participate fully in school life.

Read more: Looking Out For Young People in Out of Home Care Factsheet

The $8.6 million two-year Navigator pilot will support young people aged 12-17 years who are not connected to schools at all or are at risk of disengaging.

It will aim to increase the numbers of young people connected to school and engaged in learning and achieving their full potential.

It will include a Department of Education and Training (DET) Disengaged Students Register to track young people leaving school who may need support.

Navigator will operate in eight DET Areas across Victoria and will be delivered by community organisations, who will work closely with local area schools and regional offices. These DET Areas are Central Highlands, Western Melbourne, Mallee, Hume Moreland, Goulburn, Ovens Murray, Bayside Peninsula and Southern Melbourne.

Empower Youth Grants
As part of the Victoria Youth Policy: Building Stronger Youth Engagement, the Victorian Government is investing $4 million over three years to deliver the new Empower Youth program. It will fund organisations to work with vulnerable young people to strengthen their health and wellbeing, their connection to community, their engagement in education and training and their pathways to employment.

The program will target areas experiencing high socio-economic disadvantage, including areas of high unemployment, increased youth offending, low educational engagement and poor health or mental wellbeing indicators.

Local government and community organisations, especially in priority locations of Ballarat, Brimbank, Casey, Frankston, Greater Geelong, Greater Dandenong, Hume, LaTrobe, Whittlesea and Wyndham, were encouraged to apply for funding.

Jobs Victoria Employment Network (JVEN)
Through the Jobs Victoria Employment Network ((JVEN), the Victorian Government will provide additional resources in communities across Victoria to assist unemployed people into work. JVEN funding will provide flexible, responsive assistance to Victorians who have been unemployed for at least six months, or who are at risk of long-term unemployment and lack adequate support.

Among the priority jobseekers to be assisted by NVEN are:

  • long term unemployed people from culturally diverse communities including refugees and asylum seekers
  • Aboriginal jobseekers
  • youth justice clients
  • young people in out-of-home care
  • disengaged young people (aged 15-24 and not engaged in education, training or employment)
  • ex-offenders.

Back to Work – Place based projects
The Victorian Government has established four place based projects to focus and co-ordinate local efforts to improve job prospects for disadvantaged job seekers in Central Goldfields, Shepparton, Brimbank and Dandenong during 2016.

The projects will align all State funded initiatives in a local area, including the new Jobs Victoria Employment Network initiative, with local projects and Commonwealth funded services, including Jobactive. In doing so, the projects will provide the wrap-around holistic support that disadvantaged job seekers need to find and keep a job.

Research, reports, presentations

Justice Reinvestment: The Economic Benefits for Victoria
This thesis by Monash University PhD student Kate Burns provides an in-depth look at justice reinvestment. It provides an overview of its emergence and outlines its historical and theoretical background. It discusses the application of justice reinvestment, using the United States and the United Kingdom as examples. Burns ultimately makes the argument that the policy of justice reinvestment should be adopted in Victoria and sets out how this might be practically adopted.

Justice Reinvestment: Investing in Young People’s Lives
The presentation delivered by Smart Justice for Young People highlights what the justice reinvestment approach entails and the imperative for such an approach in Victoria. Links are provided for justice reinvestment approaches in the Australian context as well as statistics regarding the increase in prisons and return prisoners. It concludes by outlining how the case can be built for justice reinvestment through creating awareness and identifying communities interested in this approach.

More Reports and Research here.