08:08pm Saturday 19 October 2019

Keeping young people out of prison

A local forum, hosted by Wollongong Community Drug Action Team, raised concerns following the closure of the local Juvenile Justice facility that young offenders were no longer able to benefit from close contact with local support networks to assist any rehabilitation process. There are no specific diversionary programs for this group. Recidivism is high with one in five young people who enter Juvenile Detention reoffending. Young offenders are often charged with criminal offences that result from drug misuse with reports showing that two in three people who enter prison have used drugs.

Research shows community-based programs could respond to these at-risk children and their families, and address all the indicators of social exclusion (Illawarra Forum, 2010). “There is a dearth of evidence on the best comprehensive options to re-engage and redirect these young people. Finding how to achieve the best outcomes for these young people and our community needed to be our first step,” according to the Chairperson of the Youth Drug Diversion Subcommittee, Darren Bell.

The Centre for Health Initiatives at the University of Wollongong undertook a comprehensive review and comparison of an array of interventions, scrutinising each approach in the context of the fit with our local community and support services. This large research project and its recommendations for the Illawarra will be launched from 2-5pm on Wednesday October 26 at Wollongong Hospital Auditorium, by researcher Joanne Telenta. 

Ms Telenta said the research will serve as the cornerstone to underpin a submission and resultant consultations and community-driven action with government services and politicians. She said Wollongong will be a pilot site for an evidence-based youth diversion project to address drug and alcohol misuse and to support rehabilitation and community reintegration.

The research is timely as statistics show an increase in the number of juveniles in remand. Between 2007 and 2008, the juvenile remand population in NSW grew by 32 percent. Ms Telenta said the increase in juveniles in remand is a matter for concern, not only for reasons of cost, but also because of the potential impact of being held in custody on a young person’s family relationships, education and work prospects.

“Rehabilitating and supporting our young community members is obviously a much better solution for all than locking them up and not solving the underlying problems. With the implementation of a holistic community program our young people can move on from the journey to prison facing them to a fulfilling community life,” Mr Bell said.

The launch of the research has attracted international attention. Guest speaker social justice advocate Celia Lashlie is also supporting the launch by presenting “Journey to prison — the role of our community”. She will raise the need for the community as a whole to take responsibility for the incidence of crime in our society, including supporting young people to reduce their drug misuse, parental responsibility, the role of education and the role of state institutions.

Ms Telenta and Ms Lashlie will be available for comment at the event. For media comment before the event tomorrow (26 October) contact Darren Bell on 0431 497 054.

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