Offering Solutions – Creating the Australia We Want
25 August 2016 at 11:31 am
Opinion: Maybe we all need to “toughen up”, show real courage and take decisions that will make us a safer, fairer and more just society writes David Crosbie, CEO of Community Council for Australia.
Last week I had to pause my presentation at a major conference when the picture of a hooded Dylan Voller at Don Dale Detention Centre came up in my power-point presentation. Despite my familiarity with the image, I was surprised to find myself overcome by emotion, unable to speak for what seemed like minutes.
A critic later tweeted that I needed “to harden up and get real – criminals like Dylan Voller deserved everything they got – keep our society safe”.
For all those who believe that being tough on crime and tough on criminals is the solution, let me offer an alternative that again underlines the fundamental role the charities and Not for Profit sector needs to play in setting the values that are enacted in our communities.
In response to a previous Pro Bono News article about custodial culture in Australia, a number of leaders in our sector contacted me to talk about the work they are doing. Paul Ronalds, CEO of Save the Children, was one. A lot of what follows in this article is derived from the email I received from Paul, and I thank him for allowing me to use this material.
In 2011, Tasmania’s youth incarceration rates were at an all-time high. In fact, it had roughly the same number of kids in youth correctional centers as in the Northern Territory.
In 2015, just four years later, the numbers of incarcerated young people in Tasmania had dropped by 63 per cent. Over the same period, the Northern Territory, which pursued a “tough-on-crime, tough-on-kids” policy, had increased the number of young people in detention by over 30 per cent.
The difference between the two jurisdictions was largely driven by the active involvement of a major children’s charity – Save the Children.
In 2011, Save the Children began working with the Tasmanian government and their youth detention center to provide one-on-one mentoring, to give kids the support they needed, both in the detention center and in the community after they left or were on bail. The approach adopted by Save the Children was grounded in evidence about what works, combined with a meaningful assessment of local needs and local capacity.
Save the Children programs clearly played a critical role in both reducing the number of kids in detention centers and reversing recidivism rates in Tasmania to well below the national average.
Community connected programs for young offenders have repeatedly been shown to not only divert young people from returning to youth detention centers in the short term, but also often achieved permanent changes in the lifelong trajectory of young offenders which would typically involve ongoing engagement with the justice system. The benefits of these programs multiply year on year.
The Tasmanian Government and those at the coalface like the staff of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre showed great leadership in partnering with Save the Children on this program. We need more governments to take the same approach. We need governments to have the political courage to invest in early intervention programs aimed at stopping young people from coming into contact with the law in the first place. We need to change how young people are treated when they do come in contact with the law.
When CCA was first identifying the most critical values for achieving the “Australia we want to live in” by drawing on the collective wisdom of over 60 leaders in our sector, the idea of being a “just” society emerged as a key priority. One measure of the degree to which Australia is a “just, fair and safe” society is our incarceration rates.
Australian incarceration rates are increasing by 6 per cent a year. This is not the Australia we want. We can and should be advocates for changes that reduce our imprisonment rates.
As a Tasmanian youth worker employed by Save the Children said: “The opposite of crime is not punishment. It’s not detention. It’s connection to the community. And torture is not the answer for that.”
Maybe we all need to toughen up, show real courage, and take decisions that will makes us a safer, fairer and more just society?
About the author: David Crosbie is CEO of the Community Council for Australia. He has spent more than 20 years as CEO of significant charities including five years in his current role, four years as CEO of the Mental Health Council of Australia, seven years as CEO of the Alcohol and other Drugs Council of Australia, and seven years as CEO of Odyssey House Victoria.
David Crosbie writes exclusively for Pro Bono Australia News on a fortnightly basis, covering issues of importance to the broader Not for Profit sector.