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STANDING COMMITTEE ON ABORIGINAL AND TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER AFFAIRS
04/05/2010
Involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system

CHAIR —I particularly welcome the presence of Queensland government senior executives here today. It is a source of great satisfaction to us that you should have taken the trouble to come and an indication of how seriously you take the issues that we are investigating on our visits to various jurisdictions around Australia. We normally proceed by inviting witnesses to make an opening submission, and I gather that Ms Kill will do that on behalf of the other departments. We will then enter into a freer discussion of the issues that you raise.

Ms Kill —We would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners and elders of the land on which we meet. The Queensland government would like to welcome the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs and its inquiry into high levels of involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults in the criminal justice system. Our government is committed to closing the gap between the life outcomes and opportunities experienced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and those experienced by their non-Indigenous Queensland counterparts. It is acknowledged that young Indigenous people continue to be overrepresented all across the statutory interventions. Our government is actively engaging young Indigenous people to prevent offending, reduce reoffending and provide support and assistance to reduce their contact with the criminal justice system.

I would like to take the opportunity to briefly outline some of the relevant activities the Queensland government is currently undertaking in this area. There are a number of initiatives and services that provide viable early intervention options for children and young people at risk of offending. For example, the Youth and Family Support Service in Brisbane works with young people and their families to prevent a range of at-risk behaviours from escalating to offending or other negative life outcomes. Another example is the Pathways to Prevention project, which provides family support services to primary school age children and their families before problems emerge.

In 2010-11, the Department of Communities will shift $8.5 million to invest in new Indigenous child protection services that have an increased early intervention and family support focus. This will provide a wider range of services for Indigenous families, help us to address the challenges they face early on and hopefully reduce the number of children who need to be removed from their homes and their families.

A trial initiative, Breaking the Cycle of Domestic and Family Violence, commenced in October 2009 for a period of 20 months in Rockhampton. This trial aims to improve the safety and wellbeing of adults and youth affected by domestic and family violence through an innovative approach that integrates human and justice systems through better information sharing and coordinated service delivery. The trial provides services for Indigenous families experiencing family violence. As of mid-March, approximately 25 per cent of referrals to the case coordination teams were Aboriginals and/or Torres Strait Islanders. This has helped reduce the number of Aboriginals and/or Torres Strait Islanders who come into contact with the criminal justice system for domestic and family violence offences.

The South-West Indigenous Family and Youth Coaching and Mentoring Service is designed to reduce the number of young Indigenous people who enter both the child protection and the youth justice system. The service, due to commence later this month, will address the links between child maltreatment and juvenile offending at an early age though intensive family and youth coaching and youth mentoring to improve family functioning.

The Department of Education and Training runs several programs that focus on attendance, retention and achievement of Indigenous students. Programs that support this focus include: the Embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Perspectives in Schools program, which focuses on embedding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives throughout all Queensland schools to help Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students develop their sense of identity and pride in their culture, as well as building knowledge and understanding of their cultural heritage, thus contributing to developing a positive self-concept; the service guarantee, an initiative implemented in Far North Queensland that guarantees that all students can transition into a learning or earning pathway after year 12 by committing colleges to ensuring that graduating students either receive an OP score, complete an SAT, be on a clearly articulated vocational education pathway or gain employment; and operating schools within Brisbane and Cleveland youth detention centres and developing transition arrangements prior to release of the young person. These programs are critical to reducing the level of involvement of Indigenous juveniles and young adults with the criminal justice system. Queensland has the second highest apparent retention rate—that is, 52.9 per cent—of all jurisdictions in Australia for Indigenous students from years 7-8 to 12. The Australian rate is 41.9 per cent.

There is compelling evidence that alcohol use is causing serious short- and long-term harm to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals, families and communities. These harms are compounded in remote Indigenous communities, where the lower levels of employment and diversions from drinking go hand in hand with higher levels of alcohol misuse. Alcohol restrictions were introduced into Queensland’s 19 mainland Indigenous communities between 2002 and 2006, with further substantial reforms in 2008. Over 100 services have been implemented in remote communities to support these reforms, including health treatment services, diversionary services and sport and recreation services. Since 2002-03, there has been an overall improvement in key indicators across all communities. However, with small populations and quarterly fluctuations for wet seasons and community events, it is difficult to discern absolute trends. The Queensland government also provides safety and support services to young people who engage or are at risk of engaging in misuse of volatile substances.

In Queensland, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people make up 34 per cent of juvenile offenders. During 2008-09, Indigenous young people represented 53.5 per cent of all young people remanded into custody and 72 per cent of all young people admitted into detention orders. As at 13 April 2010, there were 14 Indigenous 17-year-old males and one Indigenous 17-year-old female in custody, with nine of them being held on remand and the remaining six serving a term of imprisonment. The good news is that the number of offences committed by Indigenous young people in Queensland declined by 17.4 per cent between 2006-07 and 2008-09. Other encouraging data between the years of 2006-07 and 2008-09 indicates that the number of distinct Indigenous young people appearing before the court for offences decreased from 1,622 to 1,544, a reduction of 4.8 per cent. The number of distinct Indigenous young people admitted to youth justice orders decreased from 825 to 766, a reduction of 7.2 per cent. The proportion of Indigenous young people on supervised orders has also decreased from 49.7 per cent in 2007, which equates to 798 people, to 46.2 per cent in 2009, which equates to 689 people.

The Queensland government has invested heavily in diversionary and support programs to reduce Indigenous young people’s contact with the youth justice system. Data shows that Indigenous children who come into contact with the criminal justice system are coming into contact at much earlier ages than their non-Indigenous counterparts. Recent research commissioned by the Department of Communities indicates that, in 2008-09, 25 per cent of Indigenous Queensland children were cautioned initially between the ages of 10 and 16 years of age. Cautioning and conferencing are typically available to first-time and non-serious offenders.

We know that when young people do come into contact with our youth justice system they are being diverted effectively. A modified conferencing process in youth justice services has been developed using a responsive storytelling approach to improve the effectiveness of the conferencing and to enhance the outcomes of Indigenous conference participants. This statewide program has strong evidence of successfully holding young people accountable for their actions and helping victims, with 98 per cent reaching agreement in 2008-09. Conferences also have a higher success rate for tackling re-offending. Research shows that young people who are dealt with by a conference are 15 to 20 per cent less likely to re-offend than those dealt with by the court. Youth justice conferencing gives young people an opportunity to repair the harm that they have caused and holds a young person accountable for their actions.

The Queensland Police Service Coordinated Response to Young People at Risk program, or CRYPAR, is a whole-of-government initiative which aims to assist young people in addressing issues which are often identified as contributing factors in the development of criminal and self-harming tendencies and antisocial behaviour. Essentially, CRYPAR is a referral process that allows police officers in the field to refer young people to a range of agencies that can assist them with their identified issue. The young person’s consent is required and a referral form is later faxed to the appropriate agency, which has agreed to respond within 48 hours.

The CRYPAR program is only viable where the required agencies exist on the ground and provide an effective response and service within those 48 hours. This prohibits the CRYPAR program from being transferable to other remote and rural areas without those existing services which collectively form CRYPAR. Achievements to date include 681 police trained, more than 1,400 referrals of young people and 50 partners across four police districts, which include Logan, Rockhampton, North Brisbane and Pine Rivers. With regard to crime, CRYPAR has successfully reduced recidivism by 66 per cent. The statistics were obtained from a sample of 197 clients with a history of committing criminal offences. There is no record for 130 of this group re-offending since their referral.

The justice agreement has a long-term aim of reducing the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from coming into contact with the Queensland criminal justice system to at least the same rate as the non-Indigenous Queenslanders. Significant progress has been made in relation to fairness, equity, cultural competency and Indigenous participation in justice administration. The Queensland government established community justice groups in 1993 to deal more effectively with justice issues in urban, regional and remote Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The Queensland government funds 51 criminal justice groups to support Indigenous victims and offenders at all stages of the legal process. The community justice group program engages with, and builds the capacity of, Indigenous people to resolve justice related issues at a community level. It forges strong links between government agencies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities based on mutual ownership of the causes and solutions to overrepresentation of Indigenous people in all aspects of the criminal justice system. Community justice group members are also active in the Murri Court, the justices of the peace Magistrates Court program and the Queensland Indigenous Alcohol Diversion Program.

In 2010 a review of the community justice group program will be conducted, at least in part, in response to a recommendation of the Crime and Misconduct Commission report, Restoring order: crime prevention, policing and local justice in Queensland’s Indigenous communities, which was tabled in parliament in November 2009. The report acknowledged the difficulty in compartmentalising crime and justice issues in isolation from a wide range of other issues, including education, employment, housing, health, governance and the connection between alcohol and violent crimes, which are problematic in Indigenous communities. The importance of addressing the underlying causes to offending is highlighted by a significant number of recommendations with implications for other government agencies, especially communities, child safety services, justice and corrective services.

Youth Murri courts are part of the Murri Court initiative run under this agreement, and are designed to be more informal, less intimidating and, where possible, to deliver services that focus on rehabilitation. Youth Murri courts for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth currently operate in 14 locations.

It is recognised that the aim of halving the incarceration rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders will not be achieved by the end of the agreement in December 2010. The Queensland government has therefore committed to developing a new Indigenous justice strategy that will focus on early intervention and prevention and addressing the causes of crime to continue its work in addressing the high levels of Indigenous representation in the justice system. Clearly, keeping young people from coming into contact with the system in the first place will be a high priority. This new plan will be closely aligned to the national Closing the gap agenda and the National Indigenous Law and Justice Framework.

Research commissioned by the Department of Communities found that while Indigenous young people are more likely to be remanded in custody than non-Indigenous young people—63 per cent compared to 51 per cent—there is no evidence of systematic bias. In addition to their current and prior offence details, Indigenous juveniles are at particular risk of being remanded into custody because of a lack of appropriate supports and bail supervision in the community. The Queensland government is investing in accommodation facilities and programs designed to assist Indigenous young offenders to meet their bail conditions. For example, the Youth Opportunity program offers assistance to young people on bail across the Far North Queensland region to meet their bail conditions, thereby reducing the likelihood of them being remanded in custody. Bail support services also assist young people to meet their bail conditions and address accommodation stability for young people to reduce the number of young people remanded into custody.

There are a range of programs available for young people who have been sentenced to periods of detention that are aimed at reducing the risk of these young people from reoffending, including therapeutic programs to address anger management. The recognised Aggression Replacement Therapy program is an intensive 10-week course targeted at high-risk young people. The program aims to reduce reoffending by teaching social skills, anger management and moral reasoning. The Changing Habits and Reaching Targets program also reduces the risk of these young people reoffending. Programs specifically designed to rehabilitate sexual offenders have also been implemented across the state and in regional and remote locations. For young adult offenders there are a range of Indigenous specific programs available both within custody and within the community, including Ending Offending and Ending Family Violence programs and an Indigenous sex offender program available to Indigenous prisoners.

Preliminary Queensland data indicates that nearly nine in 10 Indigenous young people leaving youth supervision or detention will be arrested by police after completing their order or period in custody. This data highlights the importance of effectively transitioning young people from supervision or detention. The Youth Opportunity program is an example of a program delivering culturally appropriate support and intervention services to young people involved in the youth justice system and their families from Far North Queensland. The program has achieved major successes, including assisting parents to improve their parenting skills, supporting young people to make positive lifestyle choices and engaging younger siblings to assist them to link with positive peer networks. The Youth Housing And Reintegration Service will target young people who are at risk of homelessness, including those transitioning from a period of sentence or remand in youth detention in Townsville.

The Department of Communities, through the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Services division, leads three of these innovative reforms: the Cape York Welfare Reform trial, the Remote Service Delivery Implementation and the Queensland Indigenous Urban and Regional Strategy—Cities and Towns. The Cape York Welfare Reform trial which runs from 2008 to 2012 is a partnership between Queensland and Australian governments, the Cape York Institute for Policy and Leadership and four communities, including Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale and Mossman Gorge. The trial is a holistic social and community development program that encourages people to take responsibility for community wellbeing by: improving school attendance and child safety; addressing alcohol abuse, drug abuse, gambling addiction and family violence; and improving tenancy management. The trial also encourages people to engage in the real economy, in real jobs and in homeownership.

The Families Responsibilities Commission, or FRC, forms a key part of the welfare reforms and aims to restore local Indigenous authority and positive social norms. The FRC works with people referred to it through breaches of state child protection, through school attendance and through criminal and tenancy laws to determine the best course of action to address their issues through a conferencing style process. Local Indigenous elders lead the process. Clients are then referred to support services such as wellbeing centres to get assistance with anger management, general counselling and financial counselling.

The Remote Service Delivery initiative is a partnership between the Australian and Queensland governments and six remote Indigenous communities in Queensland including Aurukun, Coen, Hope Vale, Mossman Gorge, Mornington Island and Doomadgee. The key focus of this initiative is a single government interface for these communities, with offices jointly staffed by Queensland and Australian government officials who report to one manager and work across Commonwealth and state activities for the benefit of each identified community.

Important to the success of this new model is the work the staff undertake with local service providers, agency managers, community leaders and members and stakeholders to cut through red tape and the government silos to resolve issues collaboratively. The remote service delivery framework includes specific initiatives to develop local implementation plans to prioritise community and government initiatives, to improve governance and leadership in communities and to improve cultural capability of the government staff working in and visiting these communities.

The Queensland Indigenous Urban and Regional Strategies—Cities and Towns, is being developed to tackle a range of issues on the COAG agenda and to assist with closing the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who live outside the discrete Indigenous communities. This strategy will develop detailed strategies to overcome inherent inequalities by improving education and employment outcomes to economically empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

In conclusion, the criminal justice system alone cannot resolve the issues of high involvement of Indigenous youth in the Queensland criminal justice system. The Queensland government has committed to ensuring that the responses to Indigenous offending are not considered in isolation from social, economic and historical factors. The Department of Communities will continue to work in partnership with communities, the Commonwealth government and other government departments of the Queensland government to implement best-practice programs to effect positive change for Indigenous young people who are at risk of entering or who are already in the Queensland juvenile justice system.

CHAIR —Thank you. That is certainly a comprehensive account of the work that the Queensland government is doing. Would it be possible to draw in your colleagues to comment on the account you have given? My colleagues and I are especially interested in your perceptions of the benefits of spending more money earlier in the lives of people who may eventually enter the criminal justice system. In particular we are interested in what you think are the strengths of some of those new programs that you have been describing, not least the ones in the north.

Mr Ryan —Bette has outlined a number of the programs that the department is currently running. We share the committee’s view that early intervention is the key. Once people reach the courts and the criminal justice system it is difficult to keep them away from that system. We are running a number of programs in pilot mode at the moment, including the youth Murri Courts and the Queensland Indigenous Alcohol Diversion Program. We also have a justice of the peace magistrates court program. We have had evaluations done on the Murri Court and the Queensland Indigenous Alcohol Diversion Program, which are currently under consideration by the government. The evaluations demonstrate that just having a court with a special process is not necessarily helpful if you do not back it up with programs, like employment programs or education programs, that give people meaningful lifestyles away from the court.

We are on the cusp of justice responses in Queensland. The 10-year justice agreement is coming to an end this year. As Ms Kill indicated, we have not achieved the rather ambitious goal of 50 per cent reduction in overrepresentation, but I think it is fair to say that we are doing as well as, if not better than, some other jurisdictions in that we are keeping—

CHAIR —It is my impression that there has been a massive increase in government activity and investment in resources in the justice system and its interface with Indigenous people in the last 10 years. It is my impression that there has been a quite dramatic change.

Mr Ryan —Yes, there has certainly been a big increase in the focus on engaging better with Indigenous communities in the system. I think we in that partnership need to get better at giving more ownership to communities to come up with solutions that work in particular areas; something that works in Brisbane obviously may not work in Cape York and vice versa. I think we need to respect the wisdom and the knowledge of elders in particular locations to guide us in partnership with them.

Mr TURNOUR —In the strategy you have talked about the cities and regional centres and how they are quite distinct from remote communities. The way you have presented your statistics goes across the state, but you are already talking about the differences between these locations. Have you broken it down in terms of changes in benefits? Is there any difference between, say, outcomes in remote Indigenous communities such as Woorabinda on the Cape York Peninsula and those in Brisbane, Rockhampton or Cairns?

Mr Ryan —I do not have that data available, but I think it is the more remote communities that are the most challenging to service, because of the lack of services on the ground in those communities. I do not know whether the commissioner has any comments on policing in those areas.

Mr Atkinson —No, I do not, but could I come back to that point when I have a chance to speak to the committee? I think it is a really important one.

CHAIR —I think your chance has arrived.

Mr Atkinson —Thank you. I endorse the comments of Bette Kill and Terry Ryan. I will add some from a policing perspective and then take any that you might have. I am sure you have heard this, but I will restate it. Despite the best will in the world in the last decade in Queensland, I think—this is just my own view—that we may need to look longer than 10 years. We might need to look at three decades so an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander born in 2010, when they are 30 years of age in 2040 has the same position as someone else in Australia born in 2010 will have at 30 and is in a leadership role within their communities and social infrastructure. I think we are a long way away from that. We need a really long term approach. With respect, I also think that needs to be a planned, structured and funded approach that is bipartisan across local, state and federal governments.

I come back to Mr Turnour’s point because I think that is an interesting one. I think there are at least seven different communities: the cities, which are large towns like Townsville and Cairns; the medium sized towns like Mount Isa; the smaller towns like Camooweal and Boulia; the isolated communities, which break down again into communities like Yarrabah and Wujal Wujal, which are close to major centres, and isolated centres like Mornington Island, Aurukun and Kowanyama which, despite being isolated, still have significant services. They will have health, education, police and other government services on the ground. We hardly have any in Queensland, but obviously in the Northern Territory and Western Australia there are many small, isolated communities that hardly have any services at all. I think that aspect is an important one.

To answer Mr Turnour’s question: I am not aware of any research that shows whether or not Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people—I think we are really talking about mainland Aboriginal people—are better situated. I think it would be an important body of work. I may well be wrong, but my sense of it is that they are doing better in the smaller towns than they are in the cities or the isolated communities. I just get a sense that in towns like Mount Isa and the smaller places they are doing better. I am sorry that I have not got any qualitative or quantitative data to support that assertion, but I do think that is an important body of potential work. For the isolated communities, I think the elephant in the room is the economic future. Most of the employment is government funded. Do we keep doing that year after year after year? Clearly there are links to other issues and that has been stated many times—the links between the criminal justice system, health, education and all of those other things.

Regrettably and sadly there has been some polarisation in terms of the police perspective and the perspective of legal aid. I think we could do some work on that. I would hope and I believe that we all want the same thing. We do not want young Aboriginal people to be in prison and to suffer poor outcomes. I think there is a chance to work together more closely on that, but it would need some fairly radical thinking. The police would have to be prepared to take a different approach, and I think they are. With respect, the Aboriginal legal aid services would have to be prepared to take a different approach as well. When a young person is repeatedly coming to the notice of police for activity, rather than putting them repeatedly before the court and having that adversarial arrangement, which is part of the justice system that we have, we need to say, ‘Can we just step outside of this a little bit?’ particularly if it is a property crime. Just write that off because the reality is that generally no-one is going to get compensated for a property crime. People are either insured or they are not. We should look at a different way of doing things. But if we are going to do that there have to be programs that the young people can go into. We cannot just say, ‘Go home and don’t do it again.’ There has got to be a program. With the greatest respect to all the work that can be done in schools and to saying that the schools have got responsibilities, most children go to school between nine and three Monday to Friday. If they go, that is 15 hours a week. There are 168 hours in a week. That is less than one-fifth of the total time. So there has got to be something there that is solid in terms of the program.

I think there is scope for an expanded police role. Police tend to be the first point of contact. Obviously there is a lot of bad history in terms of police, so I think there is a chance for us to hopefully turn that around. That will not be done overnight, but I do think there is a chance for an expanded police role—for police to work in schools and to do more than we are doing. But clearly there would have to be a commitment to that and to the resourcing and everything that would go with it.

I think employment is a critical issue. It is important that we focus on employment, not just by saying, ‘There is a job here,’ but by looking at the pathway into that employment. From a policing perspective, it is really important that Indigenous people gain employment in police departments. To me it does not matter whether they gain employment as sworn police officers, police liaison officers or civilians; it can be in any capacity at all as long as they are employed in a police department. I also do not think that they should be employed because we want them to go back into Aboriginal communities. We should be employing people in the police department so that they have a role in the department and so that other Indigenous people can see that opportunity as well.

Finally, and this may be a little bit radical, I think it is worth mentioning that my understanding of the economic theory of crime is that what prevents people from committing crime is generally one of two things. Those of us at this table and that table in this room would not commit a crime, not because we are worried about going to prison but because, if we are convicted of a crime, our lives are ruined in terms of our jobs, our reputations and everything else. Going to prison is not an issue for us; it is the ruination of our lives. People who are career criminals are not worried about their reputation; they are worried about whether they will do five or ten years if they are caught. That is the economic theory. I think what we are talking about here is a third dimension that we have not come to terms with yet. I think we need to go and talk to young people who are in youth detention centres and Indigenous people who are in prison and ask them what would have stopped them from ending up where they are. I think we have got a third dimension here in terms of causal factors that we need to get a better understanding of. Thank you for listening to me.

CHAIR —Thank you. I would like to ask a couple of things. We are to hear from Magistrate Tonkin later in the morning about the problems associated with driving licence requirements as they particularly affect Aboriginal communities, especially in more remote areas. It seems to be a problem in all jurisdictions. Have you had any thoughts about that? When I was a law student, poor people often went to prison for what we call in New South Wales the trifecta: offensive language, assault police and resist arrest. That does not happen anymore, not least because police have a quite different attitude to those things. Enormous numbers of people are going to jail because they accumulate driving offences that appear to begin with quite minor problems, but they end up having such an accumulation of offences that a magistrate puts them in jail.

Mr Atkinson —I think there is scope for us to do more in that area, and some good work has been done. In fact, some wonderful work has been done in terms of that area, but I think there is scope to do more. Maybe there is scope for the police and the transport departments to work more closely together in that regard and to have more structured, defined programs. What would be really interesting would be—and I am not sure that this research has been done—to look at the numbers of people who are in custody and put that into four categories. Those categories, to my mind, would be crimes of violence, property crime, traffic related matters and other social order matters. I share your view, Chair, and I thank you for making the comment that we do not have people in prison now for using bad language—I hope not, anyway. It would be interesting to do a snapshot of people in custody, whether that is in youth custody or otherwise, and look at why they are there. Until we know that I do not think we will be properly informed to make that observation, with respect.

Mr TURNOUR —I would like to go back to the area where we started, and I appreciate your comments in relation to more research and whatnot. Some of these are smaller committees and you have outlined a good cross-section of the differences in communities in Queensland. Would it be possible for the police department policy people to have a look at remote and regional cities and smaller towns and provide us with some information from your statistics about engagement with the criminal justice system by young people, even if it was in a private capacity? We would not necessarily expose the information, but it might give us a bit of an understanding about whether we were making progress in the cities as opposed to remote communities and the like. Is it possible to have a look at that?

Mr Atkinson —Can I take that notice and come back to the committee?

Mr TURNOUR —Yes.

Mr Atkinson —We would need to do it across all of the performance measures. It would need to be about employment, education and health, and other agencies would have to be involved in that. And there would have to be agreement upfront as to what communities we were measuring and comparing.

Mr TURNOUR —I congratulate you all for coming as a group of agencies. It is good to see agencies working together and presenting together. But, particularly in terms of trying to get evidence based responses, it would be worth while not only for the committee but also for the state government to recognise the great differences you have identified between the opportunities that exist in cities as opposed to, say, Aurukun, and to have some evidence that underpins how we are going across that 10-year strategy.

CHAIR —I get a number of imputations coming from the written and the oral evidence to suggest that recidivism rates and imprisonment rates are at least slowing in Queensland, and that is not so in most parts of Australia. Perhaps then it is the appropriate moment—I know we have two of you still to make—

Mr TURNOUR —Are we going to come back later, because I did want to ask the commissioner one more question?

CHAIR —We are getting very confused now. You ask the commissioner another question.

Mr TURNOUR —The second question I wanted to touch on was the issue just outlined to the committee about having the right police, particularly in some of the smaller towns or remote communities. I think it is particularly important and I think you would recognise that as well. If you come out of Brisbane and you have never been to Aurukun it is a different environment and it can be quite confronting. Could you outline to the committee some of the processes or steps that you have in place to ensure that police going into these places are equipped to work with the community—given the evidence we have heard about how important partnerships and conferencing are—and some of the things that the Queensland police force has done to try and improve that.

Mr Atkinson —We have upgraded the number of police. We are talking about communities here. We have upgraded the number of police for all of the larger communities with an increase to 10 officers with a senior sergeant in charge. By making it a rank based opportunity we feel we have attracted a more experienced person. For the smaller communities we have increased from two to four and there are only three of those: Hope Vale, Pormpuraaw and Lockhart River. We have left Wujal Wujal, which is a relatively new station, at only two but we think that is appropriate.

The sergeants and the senior sergeant are there for two years. Other officers are rotated through every six months but we are happy for them to stay longer if they are prepared to do that—and in some cases they are and they do. Probably one of the best things we have done in partnership with the Police-Citizens Youth Welfare Association is the establishment of Police-Citizens Youth Clubs and they are in three communities: Palm Island, Yarrabah and Mornington. I think the one at Mornington has been an outstanding success, primarily due to the commitment of the current person there who is putting in an enormous effort.

I think the future of our role in communities has to go beyond—and I hope it will—reactive traditional policing. It has to be involved in prevention and causal factor issues with other government departments and by working with young people. I think that is the pathway into the future but for the communities it is still going to come back to that economic argument about sustainable real employment in the future of those communities and where that is going to be in 10, 20 and 30 years time.

CHAIR —Perhaps we should make sure that Ms Leitch and Mr Anderson also get to make their contribution before we ask yet more questions.

Ms Leitch —I want to recognise the Yuggera people. As a Woppaburra woman it is important for me to do that and also to acknowledge my aunty, who is a member of the audience. When we talk about intervention and the Department of Education and Training we are actually talking about improving children’s life outcomes through their education and that is our focus: if they get a greater education hopefully they will have more chance of moving on to further education and employment and not getting involved in the criminal justice system.

For us, intervention is focusing on the children below year 3. We have recently implemented a strategy called Closing the Gap, which focuses on the education of Indigenous students in primary and high schools, and our focus is on changing the outcomes for Indigenous students in year 3. We want to close the gap by 2012 and by 2018, which is the COAG target to close the gap, those children will be in grade 9 and hopefully the NAPLAN results will show that the gap has closed. We have only two years of NAPLAN results. Between 2008 and 2009 we saw a narrowing of the gap for year 3 reading but that is only a comparison and next year we will be looking to see if there is some kind of trend there. So our focus is around foundational learning for these children in prep or pre-prep to year 3.

We have also implemented 35 pre-prep programs in discrete Indigenous communities to help kids as young as age 3 to 3½ to get a better understanding of the English language because the language of school is standard Australian English. We are looking at getting these children prepared to move into prep and getting them to understand the English language better so they can achieve better outcomes. Evidence shows that our Indigenous students tend to be two years behind other students by the time they reach grade 3 and after that they continue to stay two years behind. They are learning at the same rate and so we need to close that gap in the early years. Therefore, that is a big focus for our Indigenous students.

The attendance rate of Indigenous students across the state is 83 per cent, which is one of the highest in the country and is really good for Queensland. Our retention from the first year of high school through to the end is in the early 50s, which is also higher than most other states in the nation. But we acknowledge that we need to do a lot more around that and that is why we are working with the welfare communities and the four communities in Cape York. We have also implemented a mobility pilot which looks at kids who travel and move between schools and who do not attend. We have four pilot programs going there. They are in urban areas because the mobility of Indigenous kids is higher in urban areas and they are focused on primary schools as well.

When we look across the state at the outcomes for Indigenous kids, we are looking at the outcomes in the remote areas as well as in urban areas. The students in urban areas do tend to do better than the kids in the remote areas. However; they do not tend to do better than the non-Indigenous kids who are in remote or rural areas so there is a need to focus on those students as well. As part of our closing the gap strategy we will be reporting, given that our regions have just changed, on the outcomes of each region. Each region has been given different targets to close the gap by a half, three-quarters or fully for year 3 by 2012. That is what we are focusing on, getting kids to meet those targets in year 3 so that their life chances can be increased by the time they leave high school.

Mr Anderson —Our story is a really simple one: invest in the community and use that as the demand management strategy for custody. Today there will be three times as many people under community supervision as there will be in jail. It is a very simple story. Invest early or at the end of the conveyor belt of the criminal justice system. If we can invest in the community and keep people out of jail then we think that is the way to go.

It is pretty clear from the research that the more someone has contact with the criminal justice system, the deeper they get into a criminal justice system, the more likely they are to come back. Queensland has done very well in terms of slowing the flow into custody. Essentially that is because of a commitment to community policing, community courts, Murri courts, education and the other diversionary programs that are around both for youth and adults. If they come to jail then our approach is that we should invest in rehabilitation and there are a number of programs you heard described such as the Ending Offending Program, the Ending Family Violence Program, our sex offender program and indeed there is also a Making Choices Program for Indigenous women offenders. All of those we know do have an impact and will reduce the recidivism rate. The Family Responsibilities Commission has acknowledged that and they are using our Ending Offending Program in their sets of programs now. That is traditionally something we would not have done. We would not have made our programs available for people who were not on orders. But we are taking a broader view. We know we have a program and we know it works so why would we not make it available?

Last week I was in the Torres Strait and one island there—I will not mention the island—was very keen to have our Ending Family Violence Program made available through the community justice panel and we will do some training for the community more broadly. So it will not be just limited to those people that are on probation.

The thing about Queensland is that it is so large and so diverse. We believe it is the most diverse—culturally and geographically—state in the country. The commissioner says he thinks there are seven states—I counted it as six—but it depends on how you split them up. But the point is that we must understand those communities, because what works in Badu Island will not work somewhere here in Brisbane. To acknowledge that, corrective services have established a series of meetings that we call regional performance meetings. The executive moves to each region and then we inquire about how that region is developing and how we develop our services specifically to address the issues within those regions.

What does that mean? It means that in some places we will have a very practical kind of solution to the problem of keeping people on their orders. In one community we are using the local community radio to announce our presence and that has lifted the attendance rate of people on our orders to 100 per cent.

CHAIR —You could fake it, too? You could just say you were coming, even if you did not!

Mr Anderson —The point is that if people are not attending on their orders, because we are here to administer the orders of the court we would take breach action. But we would rather they turn up, and find ways of doing that.

We have embedded our staff into eight remote communities, with another two next year on the drawing board. That has meant people are now turning up and completing their programs, and successfully completing their programs. The strategy is that we want to increase the completion rate. Our completion rate of orders in Queensland is low by national standards, but that is because we administer the orders very strictly. So a 60 or 65 per cent completion rate is very acceptable for us, and we would like to see Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders complete their orders at about the same rate. At the moment it is about five per cent under that completion rate by the various order types.

There is a big challenge for us at some of our prisons—Lotus Glen is a good example—on any day, 70 per cent of the inmates will be Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders. It has been said around the north that it is a sort of rite of passage to go to jail. We will work very hard to break down that kind of message going back into communities. We are working increasingly with prisoners to say, ‘When you go back into the community say, “This is a bad experience”, and here is what you should be saying,’ which is truthful. The truth of the matter is that when you speak to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners, as I do, they do not like prison. The myth that this is better for them in some way—that they are in better conditions and the like—is not the case when they are confronted with the regime of prison on a daily basis.

I think there is a lot of work to do with connecting people with their culture while they are in custody, then taking those more positive messages about maintaining a law-abiding lifestyle back into the community. Essentially, here in Queensland it is about investing in the community; investing as early as we can and keeping people on their orders before they come into custody.

CHAIR —Would it be a fair observation to make that it is quite hard to think about closing the gap—it is clear that education is absolutely fundamental to the long-term closure of the gap—if 20 or 30 per cent of the young men between 18 and 30 in a community are in prison? I am quite interested in the general observations of any of you about that.

Mr Anderson —One tremendous initiative is the island circuit and the remote circuits for the courts. Last week I had the pleasure of following the magistrate around the Torres Strait islands and watching the way those matters were dealt with in community. This is extremely important to me because it means that for the first time I really understand that taking those young men out of their community probably does not serve much purpose. The magistrate, being there, is able to balance out the needs of the local community and their expectations. It has also allowed us to do presentations of certificates to people who have completed their programs on Badu and do that in front of the community, saying, ‘Look, there has been reparation for the offence these people committed in your community.’ That is a terrific thing and should be noted.

CHAIR —In jurisdictions across Australia, there is a palpable absence of alternatives to imprisonment. The more remote you get, the fewer alternatives there are generally speaking. I am very interested in how you have responded to it across the board and how you think you ought to respond to that issue

Mr Anderson —To continue with the way that is dealt with in remote communities, the community justice groups play a role and they are local people who will supervise our orders or community work, to ensure that the orders are maintained. We have a very strong association with those community justice groups. There are some examples of very good diversionary programs around the country. While I would point to is near Yarram, in Gippsland, Victoria, called Wulgunggo Ngalu, a learning centre which is reconnecting offenders to their culture. It seems to be a very good model which people could learn from. In Queensland we have tried outstations previously and some diversionary programs and they have failed because of non-compliance of the participants. At the moment at .we are putting our minds to how we can do those better. Part of the problem was that some of them were so close to a community that there was no encouragement for people to stay in the program. Instead, they would be called away and get drawn back to the main part of the community. Then they would breach their order and subsequently those things were not successful. But, there is hope.

Prisoners here in Queensland are moved to a series of work camps and they effectively are living in communities and cleaning up after storms and floods, which we have an awful lot of. They are also doing community work and there is tremendous tolerance and acceptance of those programs in the communities. So as you are indicating, Sir, I think an investment in diversionary programs could work.

Ms REA —I am really interested in education programs which intervene at year 3. Obviously, we all know that the earlier we can intervene in the child’s development, the more opportunities they will have. I would be interested to know specifically what you are doing and why you think the particular programs you have developed will be successful in terms of the intervention. Is it simply more resources, more intense one-on-one focus on students or is it something different you are doing which you think will succeed? On that point, is it the one program across the state or are you trialling different things in regional areas, particularly in light of comments—different concerns, different problems in different parts of the state, depending on whether you are in a city or a regional or remote community?

Ms Leitch —The Closing the Gap Indigenous Education Strategy which Queensland is putting in place is different from strategies in the past. In the past we have given funding to schools and said, ‘You do what you think students need.’ That has not seen great outcomes.

The strategy we have in place now is targeting programs that research has shown have worked. We are saying that the first thing you do is concentrate on the foundation learning for these kids—you focus on their health and on their transition into jobs at the end of high school, and you also look at their culture and their enterprise. One of the things we do under those service lines is we say to them, ‘If you’re going to spend money then you need to spend money in these particular areas.’ When we look at foundation money, they need to engage the parents and we say, ‘These are the major points that you need to do when you engage parents. You need to implement literacy programs, and these are the programs that you need to implement that have shown outcomes for literacy.’ We are saying they can take those major points and mould them and change them to what their community needs, but the programs that they put in place need to be evidence-based and you need to be able to measure them at the end of it. I think there is a lot more accountability now for the outcomes that students get and people can no longer run their own race. They need to do something that actually shows the outcomes for kids.

Ms REA —Thank you. As a committee, both intuitively and anecdotally, we have heard plenty of evidence that early intervention is really the key in dealing with this issue. That up-front investment in communities and prevention programs is clearly going to be better than trying to fix the problem half-way or three-quarters of the way through. What we need as a committee is the evidence or data to go back to the minister and say, ‘This is not just an intuitive or anecdotal thing. There is real evidence to say that the earlier the intervention the better is the outcome.’ In this submission here, given the enormous number of programs that are clearly happening in Queensland, obviously with some success, I would be interested to know if you already have some evidence to show that the programs which are more focused on intervention earlier are the ones that are working more successfully. Also, when you look at the list of programs I guess the first thing that comes to my mind is what is the level of coordination between all the agencies that are doing this and is there evidence to show that the greater the coordination the better the outcomes? To me, the answer to all of that is yes, but we need the actual evidence in data to reinforce that yes with a measurement, if you like. I would be interested to hear if anyone would like to comment on that.

CHAIR —I think Ms Kill has the natural right to begin the answer.

Ms Kill —I am certainly happy to start. We have a number of pilots that we are currently commencing or midway into. Each of those pilots is being evaluated. What we find across Australia is that many of the interventions have not been evaluated in the past although practitioners would argue through their own experience that they make a difference. We are now beginning that evaluation process to build explicit evidence. On the other hand there are some programs that we have mainstreamed where we do have strong evidence and conferencing is one of those. We have developed a number of programs. Our anger replacement therapy and our CHART program, which is the choices program, are based on international evidence. So, where possible, we revise current programs to evidence-based available programs and where we are breaking new ground we are evaluating those programs now. We would be happy to provide any evidence that we have available on these key programs. They do indicate that early intervention is cost-effective and does make a difference.

CHAIR —While we are on statistics, do we have evidence of recidivism rates?

Ms Kill —We also run Youth Justice in the state of Queensland, in the Department of Communities, which is the system that is run for young people who commit an offence when under the age of 17. The adult system deals with young people 17 and above. We are part of a national group called the Australasian Juvenile Justice Association and that involves both New Zealand and Australian jurisdictions. We have agreed to commence work with AJJA and with the Australian Institute of Criminology in relation to recidivism. It is an area that needs more work and we have commenced that work nationally.

Mr Atkinson —Bette mentioned CRYPAR before and some of the results with that. I think it is a good example. I will undertake to get for the committee as well some data on Mornington Island with the police-citizens youth club where they put intensive programs on over the Christmas holiday period and crime for that period compared to the previous year virtually went to zero, which was quite outstanding. I can get that data for you. Admittedly, a police-citizens youth club on a place like Mornington Island is not cheap. It is a significant financial investment. Early intervention is really important in preschool up to grade 3, but I think we need to have intervention strategies all the way through so that for someone at 15 or 16 even we can say, ‘Here’s a program for that person.’ Even though they might have been in a lot of trouble, the goal is to keep them out of prison.

CHAIR —I recall that when I was first a law student about a century ago I had a lecturer in criminology who said that he had discovered by far the best antidote to offending behaviour—he said it was almost unfailing—it was turning 30! It is possibly appropriate to ask you all a final question which is one where you make your bid rather than us asking you to answer questions. We want to know whether there are specific ways in which you think the Commonwealth could give better assistance. Are there initiatives that you would like to see from the Commonwealth which would assist you in your joint endeavour? I say that particularly because I am acting on an assumption that you have done actually very well in coordinating the work of various agencies. It is quite noticeable that you are able to speak from that whole-of-government perspective but the whole of government at its best includes the Commonwealth and I wonder whether you have specific suggestions about how the Commonwealth might improve its contribution.

Mr Anderson —Perhaps I could start by picking up on your point about the effectiveness of programs. The cost of community supervision for us on the most recent data is under $10 a day per person and imprisonment is about $189 a day per person and in the next report it might go up to $11 and closer to $200. The programs I have described today are programs that we know work and we do not include in the programs I am describing here a series of life skills programs. These are programs that we know will measure and work. Being Corrective Services we are not fighting always for Commonwealth money—it is definitely a state responsibility. My view is that apart from letting people turn 30 and maturing out of crime—it is probably 40 now, it has probably got a little older, but it is still the same problem—if people have somewhere to live and a way to make money then you will do as much to reduce crime as you will do by investing in the programs I have been describing. I think it is about work and housing.

Ms Kill —Our department also runs the housing programs. We certainly would encourage the Australian government to provide further funding in the no exit into homelessness program because we are convinced that people exiting prison, child safety or health institutions, including mental health institutions, and off the street fare better in terms of not entering into the criminal justice system if they have a solid foundation of housing against which other programs can be provided. The second area that we would suggest is that more Australian government programs have ongoing funding rather than short-term public funding. It is difficult for other jurisdictions to pick up successful programs that are discontinued.

The third area that I would like to suggest is that of continued intensive partnerships in remote communities. We are finding that that is beginning to make a difference. Certainly Cape York is a good example of that. We also find that cooperation at an intensive level is most helpful.

Mr Ryan —From the perspective of the department of justice, one of the Commonwealth areas of responsibility is funding of Aboriginal legal services. The justice system depends heavily on effective representation of Indigenous offenders. The local Aboriginal legal service sometimes struggles to retain and train staff because of funding issues. It is one area in which the Commonwealth could be encouraged to invest. I think looking more broadly at effective crime prevention strategies, the Commonwealth has funded jointly with the Queensland government an initiative on Mornington Island called the Mornington Island restorative justice initiative, which involves mediation of disputes before they turn into criminal offences. That is proving to be quite an effective strategy in building community relations. That type of investment would also be welcomed in a broader range of communities.

Ms Leitch —Bette was saying that it would be great if we could have longer term funding in those two areas. As I mentioned before, we started a pilot with Commonwealth funding around the mobility of urban students but we have only two years of evidence. It would be good to have longer term funding so that we could see whether that program works before we move it state-wide. An area in which there is a gap for Indigenous students living in rural and remote communities is their difficulty in accessing specialist diagnostic services for mental health and disability. The lack of a confirmed diagnosis by specialist medical practitioners can be a barrier to these young people being eligible for services and supports. It is an area that we would desperately like to see addressed. We do have people out there but there are not enough of them.

Mr Atkinson —I agree with all of that. I do believe that we have to have a long-term approach. I personally think it is going to be three generations, and only the Commonwealth can take the lead on that because local and state governments cannot take the lead nationally. I believe that there has to be a coordinated, long-term bipartisan approach and recognition that there is no silver bullet and no single and simple solution. We all know that. Having said that, I think we have to be careful that we do not say, ‘Okay, we’re going to look at three decades.’ There has to be rigour in terms of evaluation so that we are not getting to 10 years time and saying, ‘Gosh, that didn’t work.’ We have to have rigour in terms of evaluation so that every year or every two years or whatever we look at this. Could I make a suggestion: 2038 will be the 250th anniversary of the arrival of the First Fleet. It would be a very sad thing if, in 28 years time, when we celebrate that 250th anniversary, we are no better advanced for Indigenous people than we are at the moment. I just think we have to make a start. A child born today with foetal alcohol syndrome has probably not got any chance at all in the world that we live in and never will, so we really have to turn these things around.

CHAIR —As a matter of fact, Commissioner, we were at Fitzroy Crossing in the Kimberley a few weeks ago. A very famous initiative was taken in that community to reduce alcohol consumption. In fact, it has transformed a lot of the social circumstances that exist there. The women in particular of that community did not want to talk to us about anything except foetal alcohol syndrome. They are the same people who brought about the astonishing change in that community, having identified it as their critical problem.

Would it be fair to say too that you appear to have learnt at the government level how to draw agencies together to work with much more coherence than you did 10 years ago, and that in turn enables you to treat communities with much more calibration than otherwise? And yet—and I am sure both of those things are true—one still hears occasionally vociferous criticism about the level of government activity, especially in smaller communities, the idea being that all sorts of people come to do all sorts of different things and in the end the community just becomes confused by the fact that there is someone else from the government. I am really interested in how you approach that problem, which I have no doubt you are entirely aware of?

Mr Atkinson —I think there are probably many aspects to that, and it is a really good point but there are two aspects in particular. I think that in some cases it is a fair criticism in terms of communities because most local councils are responsible, as they say, for roads, rates and rubbish. We put enormous expectations onto the councils and small communities to deal with a whole range of things. They get inundated by people from the local government and the state and federal governments. That is a fair comment.

On the other hand—and I say this genuinely with the greatest of respect, and you touched on it I think, Chair, when you talked about the number of young men who were in prison and who were taken out of a community—there is an issue with that sense of community ownership and leadership. As governments, we cannot do everything. Things have to come from within the community; if young women are pregnant and drinking heavily and if kids are not going to school, there is a limit to what government can do about that. There has got to be some ownership within the community as well.

Ms Kill —We are working closely with other agencies in terms of better coordination of visits to communities. That is helpful for communities to have a more routine approach to services coming in from off site. In terms of workforce we do not have a presence in community, but there is a need for us to go quite regularly so we are working on that issue.

Mr Anderson —I think also that the Government Champions program here is something worth looking at. Commissioner Atkinson is a government champion, and I am a government champion of a community. It is nothing for the champions to hear them say, ‘My community’. You do own the community and have great pride in the community that you are assigned to, but that means we have to think about what cross-government agency connections need to be made. That is just becoming a bit of business here; it is being embedded into the business model.

CHAIR —I had not been aware of it. Senior public servants are given individual communities for which they have a particular ethical responsibility?

Mr Anderson —Yes.

CHAIR —What a good idea!

Mr Anderson —We travel to our communities and have negotiating tables with the community. These issues of coordination are raised with us and we will come back and cut through the bureaucracy around those kinds of issues.

CHAIR —That is a very clever idea because you know better than anyone else in Queensland how to cut through the bureaucracy.

Mr Anderson —We think we do!

CHAIR —We thank all of you for coming and being so frank and helpful this morning.

Proceedings suspended from 10.44 am to 10.56 am