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Legal and Constitutional Affairs References Committee
01/05/2013
Value of a justice reinvestment approach to criminal justice in Australia

REODICA, Mr Reynato, Deputy Director, Youth Sector, Australian Youth Affairs Coalition

CHAIR: Welcome. The Australian Youth Affairs Coalition has lodged submission No. 105 with the committee. Do you wish to make any amendments or alterations to that submission?

Mr Reodica : No.

CHAIR: I now invite you to make a short opening statement, and at the conclusion of that I will invite members of the committee to ask questions.

Mr Reodica : We would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to talk to our submission today. Unfortunately, Ms Jacqueline McKenzie, who authored much of our submission, is off sick today. She was very croaky when she called this morning, and has been emailing through thoughts and other bits of information but unfortunately was not well enough to actually attend today. So apologies from her.

What we wanted to do in our submission was to take a different perspective from some of the others who have been working in the justice reinvestment space for a while and who we have partnered with around various aspects of this concept. In our submission we wanted to demystify some of the justice reinvestment concepts. We know that justice reinvestment means different things to different people. So we wanted to take what we thought were some of the valuable elements of the justice reinvestment concept and show what is happening in Australia that could show a beacon that we could move towards if we were to adopt the justice reinvestment approach. These beacons are, of course, services that exist around Australia in the community that show us how justice reinvestment might actually be adopted here and what it might look like on the ground. So we approached a small number of service providers and were really happy with the level of interest and the response that we received from the 152 service providers who were able to provide feedback through our in-depth survey as well as a number of case studies including the three who made it to our final submission. So I would like to thank each and every one of them for that.

It is worth noting from the outset that, as an organisation, we represent both the interests of young people and youth services. Unfortunately for the purposes of this submission we were not able, capacity-wise and time-wise, to get the voices of young people who have had experiences of the juvenile justice system and young people in the adult prison population to inform this work. That is a deficit and we would note that, in making decisions about the future of juvenile and youth justice, we would encourage all decision-makers to really take the time to listen to the experiences of young people. They are the experts in those experiences and will not be filtered in terms of the responses that they will be able to provide to you if you are able to hear from them.

It is unfortunate that Jacqui could not make it today, but I hope to be able to provide you with enough insight on our submission with answers to your questions. I will leave it there.

CHAIR: Thank you, Mr Reodica. I might start off and acknowledge first of all how interesting your survey was and the fact that at fairly short notice—in response to the inquiry, I think, wasn't it—you compiled that survey and administered it.

Mr Reodica : Yes.

CHAIR: Thank you for that. You acknowledge that many young people in the justice system have complex needs. To what extent do you consider that current programs you are aware of provide adequate support for those young people? If they do not, what services or what different sorts of services are required?

Mr Reodica : From the response that we got from the youth sector, it was pretty clear that 90 per cent of respondents thought that there were not the right level or the right types of services available for the target population that we are talking about here. In terms of the complexity of approaches required to address the more multiple and complex needs of young people involved in the justice system, it would be quite difficult to summarise all of that in a short answer. What I would say, and what I think is quite exciting about the justice reinvestment approach, is the concept of really putting some parameters around the place based nature of some of those services.

In our submission we did note that part of what would be of value to this approach would be focusing not merely on what is happening for that particular young person, because there are complex needs that can be identified and can be addressed. It would also be about looking not just at what is happening in the family of that young person but at what is happening at the community level. We are talking about various communities around the country that are facing community breakdowns and high levels of dysfunction within the community. These are hotbeds of crime where both young and older offenders are being sourced.

What we would like to see is a mechanism by which services are able to provide a long-term approach to the issues that they are facing based on what the community is telling them they need—looking at particular models that would allow for a deep level of trust to be built between young people, families and the communities over a longer period of time. That would require a level of certainty in funding for these services. We see this as a vital part of any approach that will deal with not just complex issues for young people but complex issues for us as a society.

CHAIR: I would like to tease out a little your understanding about what the justice reinvestment approach is. It is a somewhat amorphous concept for some people, I think. People tend to have different views about it, but there is a kind of particular viewpoint about how it originated in the US. What do you see that as? You have mentioned place based. That is certainly traditionally one of the aspects of justice reinvestment. It is identifying actual physical geographical communities who would benefit particularly from an investment.

I am interested in how that works in with the idea of acknowledging that there is a particular class of people, particular bands of different people, with different vulnerabilities within the community—it might be young people, it might be people with mental ill health or it might be people who have drug and alcohol dependence—who do not necessarily live in those geographical communities. How does it work together?

You have acknowledged that it is traditionally considered to be place based. In terms of dealing with young people, are you suggesting that one of the aspects of justice reinvestment would be identifying the community and then looking at the particular needs within that community as they pertain to people who become involved in crime, a large proportion of whom may well be young. Is that how you see it working?

Mr Reodica : We think that there is a reason young people should be treated as special in terms of identification of places, particularly considering the value that you get from addressing the root causes of crime in a young person; it lasts for their whole lifetime. We think that there should be some focus on the needs of young people and the statistics in relation to young people involved in crime when deciding on places where a justice reinvestment approach will be applied. Beyond that, it really does depend on what would be appropriate for the young people in that situation so, once you have decided on the place, it is about really focusing on the needs of young people: what existing service providers, parents, communities, schools and, most importantly, young people themselves are saying they need. What would keep them off the streets? What would keep them interested in school? What would keep them having hope for their futures? It is all of those sorts of things. We would hope that people implementing a justice reinvestment approach would source that information, from both young people and people who are working on behalf of young people.

CHAIR: That would be one of the steps in the process of identification. First of all, I think I understand you to be saying that one of the factors in identifying where you might trial a justice reinvestment approach geographically would be the proportion of people offending being young.

Mr Reodica : Yes.

CHAIR: And then, if you apply one of the principles of justice investment, which is mapping the services that currently exist and the gaps in services, it would be focusing particularly on those services and gaps in services as they pertain to young offenders; I understand that. Another aspect of justice reinvestment is the idea that one of the ways savings are made is by diverting people from going into jail by having alternative community based sanctions or other diversionary principles, which is about sentencing policy. If that were introduced on a state or territory basis, I guess you could make the argument that that would benefit all young people, irrespective of where they live, if there was a process of diverting more people away from jail anyway. That would also potentially be of benefit, leaving aside the place based investment issue.

Mr Reodica : I tend to agree with that. Obviously priorities do need to be given, and we completely understand all of that. We do need to be starting to move towards this approach in any way we can, so we would not be opposed to having trial sites in particular locations and the like. We understand that it is necessarily going to be, when defined, a place based approach that would be able to be applied everywhere, at least in the first instance. In terms of my opening remarks around the complexity of justice reinvestment and it being different things to different people, it has been quite difficult for us to work out what we are talking about around justice reinvestment. We know that we are not talking about the model that is being sold off in the US as justice reinvestment as a package. We are not talking about stuff that just sounds like reinvesting money into good programs.

We are talking about that middle ground where it is about what the aspects of the justice reinvestment approach are that most people can agree on that are fundamental to that approach and how they would be applied to the Australian context. That is how we have approached it. It is somewhere in the middle there from the most restrictive through to it sounding like justice reinvestment so let's do that. We understand that there does need to be a strong basis in the available evidence and there does need to be a focus on where we can get the most gain. We know that the contexts overseas are quite different to a lot of places that a justice reinvestment approach might be considered to be applicable over here. There are some parts of Australia that are probably just as bad as the context overseas where the justice reinvestment approach has been shown to work. So that argument could be made and if we started with them then that would be fantastic.

CHAIR: One of the clear aspects that came from your survey, phrased differently depending on who was responding but it was a common theme—was the necessity of having input and respect for the viewpoint of the young person in the way that they are being dealt—not just doing things to them but having them own, in a sense, what is happening and having input into what is happening. That is certainly consistent with the viewpoint that people put in terms of the justice reinvestment approach with communities, that communities need to have ownership and input, that you cannot just impose things on them. Their heart needs to be in the programs that are being developed. Would you like to say anymore about that? That was one of the themes that came through very strongly in terms of the survey responses.

Mr Reodica : That certainly is something that is exciting about the approaches as we see them. We would note that youth services that have been working in these communities have a vast amount of knowledge about what has worked and what has not worked in those communities, particularly community based youth services would be a font of knowledge from that perspective. We would also note the involvement of young people and making sure that whatever approaches are applied are not just owned by the community but owned by young people as well.

CHAIR: One of the issues that has been raised in various submissions is in relation to the number of young people who are being detained without having been sentenced, on remand effectively. In fact, some of the statistics which are really concerning indicate that they end up spending more time in detention than they would otherwise have spent if they had been sentenced. The time in detention exceed the time they would have been sentenced for. Is that a concern that you are aware of from the people whom you represent and have been consulting with? Why is that happening?

Mr Reodica : It is absolutely a concern from our perspective. On our understanding, it is different in different states. That is why, I guess, it did not feature as strongly as it might have if this was a state based inquiry. For instance, changes to bail act a few years ago in New South Wales caused quite a significant increase in the remand population in the state. So it is certainly a concern. It is something that we would suggest is more about the political nature of decision making around youth justice than what the evidence is showing us needs to happen.

We know what disruption is caused by placing a young person in incarceration on remand. The average time spent on remand in New South Wales—the last time I checked which was a while ago unfortunately—was around 14 hours. That level of disruption I do not think protects the population. It does not allow young people to have any level of certainty in terms of what they will be doing from hour to hour. It also prevents young people from engaging in positive pro social, developmentally positive activities and gets in the way of good development.

In particular, the decision making around remand and the decisions that have led to the increase in remand are of great concern to us. The final thing I point to is our commitments both domestic and international to using incarceration as a last resort for young people, particularly minors. It is unfathomable that we are putting young people behind bars on remand in situations, in some cases, where sentences would not even involve a day behind bars. It is simply unacceptable from our perspective.

CHAIR: I am interested in your political considerations as opposed to practical considerations. We heard evidence earlier today from the South Australian Justice Reinvestment Working Group. South Australia has the unenviable title of having the second highest number of young people on remand. I understand one of the reasons for that is an inability to find accommodation. They do not have accommodation so, arguably, it is practical as opposed to political. I also am aware of the trial in South Australia of bail hostels. Rather than remand people to imprisonment because they do not have accommodation, they provide accommodation. Are you aware of any programs like that? Is that practical issue a legitimate consideration?

Mr Reodica : We have not done a great deal of work on the concept of bail hostels and those specific measures. We do acknowledge that we are in a situation of what might be considered child protection or care and considerations are being taken into account when we are making decisions about whether or not we put a young person on remand. That is indicative of a wider issue we have in the state care system relating to the levels of support that are available to families and to young people. Bail and remand are certainly issues but we have not particularly done work on them.

Senator CROSSIN: I want to ask you about the structure of the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition. Are you represented by state and territory representatives? How are you structured federally?

Mr Reodica : We are an independent organisation and our membership comprises each of the recognised state and territory peak bodies. In the Northern Territory there is currently no recognised body functioning as a peak body, so we are working very closely with both the Northern Territory Youth Affairs Network in information dissemination.

Senator CROSSIN: Is that why you have relied so heavily on the youth worker at NTCOSS for input?

Mr Reodica : Yes, absolutely. I can give you the long history of what happened in the NT with it not necessarily having a peak, but you are probably aware of that.

Senator CROSSIN: Do you meet or make representations to the federal minister?

Mr Reodica : Yes, absolutely.

Senator CROSSIN: Is justice reinvestment something you have raised in that context?

Mr Reodica : Not specifically as far as I am aware. We have not necessarily done a lot of advocacy around justice reinvestment or youth justice generally prior to developing this submission. Obviously with young people's issues being every issue under the sun, we do have to prioritise. We looked at this opportunity and this inquiry as a key opportunity for us to start working in this space.

Senator CROSSIN: Was NTCOSS in the Territory and their youth worker able to give you any statistics about the age of people that are generally reoffending and incarcerated there?

Mr Reodica : No, we were not able to get statistics on a state-by-state basis. We understand some states and territories have been less than forthcoming in their statistics, which is one of the real concerns we have. How do we know where justice reinvestment is needed if we do not have good data collection? One of the organisations we did profile was Throughcare in the Northern Territory.

Senator CROSSIN: Through NAAJA?

Mr Reodica : Yes.

Senator HUMPHRIES: You say in your submission you believe the government should develop a public education campaign to showcase successful programs that result in positive outcomes for young offenders, leading to reductions in youth crime. You describe in your attachment both 'throughcare' and 'outcare'. You talk about the evaluation process, but have either of those evaluation processes demonstrated that these are, in fact, programs that reduce crime?

Mr Reodica : I am not across the detail of the evaluations of those particular projects, so I would not be able to tell you that, unfortunately.

Senator HUMPHRIES: Are you aware whether there are any programs targeting crime among young people which have led to reductions in the incidents of crime in those communities?

Mr Reodica : In terms of available data I am not aware of those specifically. I point to the fact that one of the issues that we have in this particular context is that successful service provision is not necessarily given the capacity to properly evaluate it to the extent that would be required for a process like this. We would suggest that any justice re-investment approach, if that information is not available, should include an evaluation component in all its work to ensure that we start building up that evidence base to the level that you or other people might want it to be at. But we do not think that a lack of available evidence because that evidence has not been properly resourced to be developed is a reason for not adopting a justice re-investment approach.

Senator HUMPHRIES: But you would also agree, I am sure, that there is no point developing a public education campaign around successful programs if, in fact, there are no successful programs.

Mr Reodica : Yes, depending on what you measure a success as being.

Senator HUMPHRIES: I am relying on your measure of success—programs that lead to reductions in youth crimes.

Mr Reodica : We suggest that we are looking longer term so that if there are evaluated justice re-investment approaches that show a reduction in crime in a particular locality the elements of those programs are spoken about far and wide.

CHAIR: We might come back to the discussion we were having earlier about the remand issue and the accommodation issue. What has been put to me is that sometimes remand decisions are made because there is no alternative accommodation—a young person might be homeless, for instance, or might not have someone who is able to supervise them, so they are remanded rather than being able to leave and attend court when the hearing is on. You raised the child protection aspects of that. Earlier today we heard from NAAJA, and it was very clearly submitted to us from one of their representatives that detention facilities for young people are not safe anyway, and that assaults and sexual assaults and so on can occur. They were talking about the Northern Territory experience, but I would be interested to know to what extent you think this might be generalised in your membership experience. Do you have any information about that from your members about what occurs and what the risks are of detaining young people on remand or while they are waiting to be sentenced—or, indeed, once they have been sentenced?

Mr Reodica : I do not have that information available. I am sure that it exists in our network, particularly within the state and territory peak bodies, each of whom have an interest in what is happening in their particular jurisdiction. We know that there are some particularly concerning instances that have occurred in juvenile detention but, unfortunately, I will not be able to speak to that off the top of my head right now.

One more thing I forgot to mention in my opening: we redeveloped our submission into a report that we released today called Insights from the coalface: the value of justice reinvestment for young Australians. A week ago we put it out to the organisations that we are involved with in the process of feeding into this submission for endorsement of that report. In the last week we have received 30 endorsements from organisations such as the National Association of Community Legal Centres, Anglicare Australia, Girl Guides, Justice Reinvestment South Australia, YMCA Australia and most of the state and territory youth peaks, including NTCOSS. They have signed off on it. I would like to table the list of those 30 organisations.

CHAIR: Thank you.

Mr Reodica : Thank you for your time.

CHAIR: Thank you for your attendance and evidence.