We know children and young people getting caught up in the Victorian criminal justice system are some of the states most disadvantaged and vulnerable, many from the poorest parts of Victoria, many having left school early, living in the out of home care system, with a highly disproportionate number being Koori children. We know many of these children and young people graduate to adult offending.
To limit the numbers of children on this trajectory of becoming adult offenders there is a critical need for a strengthened focus on early intervention and prevention programs.
The Andrews Government is making significant investment in early intervention and programs that address the causes of and risk factors behind youth offending. $5.6 million for a state-wide youth diversion program, new initiatives to keep or re-engage children in education, crime prevention programs that help local communities identify and address the risk and protective factors, Roadmap for Reform that aims to strengthen the child protection and family services system and Government’s commitment to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence.
We encourage Government to further strengthen this approach and commit to alternate crime prevention policy and investment: justice reinvestment.
This approach involves a strong community development focus on intervening early and at critical life points, particularly in the lives of vulnerable and at-risk young people, currently over-represented in the criminal justice system.
A justice reinvestment approach is evidence based and data driven and resources communities and their young people to discuss, decide on and implement early intervention, prevention or diversion supports are needed by young people in their community.
Justice reinvestment aims to break the cycle of offending by focusing on and addressing some of these underlying social causes of criminal offending or recognized “risk factors” for offending behaviour, such as family violence and breakdown, child abuse, trauma and neglect, disengagement from school and/ or work, alcohol and drug abuse/misuse, and mental illness and intellectual disabilities.
By tackling disadvantage and the causes of offending, crime is prevented and expenditure on courts and prisons is reduced.
There is significant work going on in Victorian communities currently that demonstrate to various degrees of how justice reinvestment can strengthen communities and reduce youth offending.
The kinds of local community initiatives that help prevent crime and address its causes include:
– family support services such as parenting programs, enhanced maternal and child health care,
– a focus on preschool for young children, and
– education programs that help keep at-risk young people engaged in school or further training
Take the example of the work taking place in the community in Maryborough.
In the past Central Goldfields Shire has rated 79th out of the 79 local government areas in Victoria on many health and social indicators.
A multi-sectorial partnership called the Go Goldfields Alliance is tackling a range of health and social issues via a series of shire-wide, community-driven approaches to improve social, education and health outcomes for children, youth and families.
Even without a discrete justice focus, this collaborative community led approach is making a difference in addressing underlying causes of crime.