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Toni

Toni Craig

Year of Award: 2016 Award State: Queensland None > Community
Social Welfare > Children Care And Protection
Social Welfare > General
To Identify world class strategies to improve outcomes for children at risk of offending - Finland, Sweden, Denmark, UK, Canada
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Keywords: crime prevention, early intervention, diversion, young offenders, custody, youth justice, juvenile justice

My Churchill Fellowship to Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Canada investigated these countries’ approaches to preventing and addressing crime committed by young people. Attendance at a European Society of Criminology Conference in Cardiff, Wales at the mid-point of my journey, provided invaluable reflective space to learn, enquire and ponder European and international trends and approaches and contextualise my previous and subsequent experiences.

This Fellowship provided a timely opportunity to identify the critical elements of human service and justice systems that result in other countries having significantly lower youth offending and detention rates than Australia. In doing so, I discovered that Australia is experiencing similar trends and challenges to the rest of the developed world - declining crime rates accompanied by a concentration of offending among a small group of young people with very complex needs.

Primary crime prevention was characterised by formalised, coordinated, and in some cases, national crime prevention strategies with a dedicated agency to provide support for crime prevention planning and implementation. In Denmark and Sweden, this support took the form of advice, resources, professional development and research delivered by well-respected crime prevention authorities. In Canada these functions were enhanced by a well-resourced crime prevention research agenda and funding programs to pilot and evaluate new crime prevention approaches.

Secondary crime prevention in the form of early intervention initiatives and strategies targeting high risk groups of young people (including gangs) and neighbourhoods were evident in all four countries. These initiatives were characterised by coordinated, multi-agency programs that provide a mix of prosocial activities and evidence-based support and intervention.

Diversion activity was evident in all countries, with many different forms of cautioning, mediation and restorative justice. There were some excellent evaluated examples from the province of Ontario, Canada where children and young people are diverted to case management and support instead of the criminal justice system and in Alberta, to an expansive suite of restorative justice programs.

Tertiary crime prevention/tertiary intervention programs which target young offenders to prevent them from reoffending were delivered in the community and to a lesser extent in secure or open institutions. Common features were the use of evidence-based assessment tools and programs, small scale custody facilities and relationship-based casework models, supported by quality forensic treatment and high levels of oversight and monitoring of institutions by an independent organisation.

For any country to effectively tackle youth offending, all four response domains are required within an integrated, clearly communicated policy framework. Canada provides a pertinent example of how a long term sustained commitment to full scale reform of the youth justice system can reap significant benefits. The high performing province British Columbia is a useful reference point for Queensland with a similar sized population and economy, significant cultural diversity and Indigenous populations who remain over-represented in the criminal justice system.

Australia and Queensland could benefit from an approach that integrates all domains in an effective and evidence-based way. I conclude with a representation of the key features of a system that, in my view, would enhance community safety and improve life outcomes for troubled young people. Time is of the essence in making these changes. Implementing system wide reform will create capacity to respond to changing community dynamics and the increasing complexity of young offenders, including the emergence of gangs.

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