Bourke: working with Indigenous kids

The country town of Bourke, New South Wales is the first place in Australia to trial a community-led justice reinvestment approach to keep kids out of detention.

Initiated and led by the Aboriginal community, the initiative is now tackling the social issues that get kids into trouble in the first place. They’re keeping kids in communities, where they belong.

Why are community solutions so important?

Our research shows the solution to lowering youth crime, keeping kids out of prison, and making Australian communities safer, is to address the underlying issues young people face.

For kids, community is everything. It’s kids’ connections with family and community that lets them flourish, and sets them up for life.

For kids, community is everything. It’s kids’ connections with family and community that lets them flourish, and sets them up for life.

Communities are different — they are urban, they are remote — but what they have in common is the expertise to know what is best for Indigenous people and the way forward for their children.

What is justice reinvestment?

Justice reinvestment works by shifting investment in prisons to investment in communities. It addresses why crimes occur in the first place — building alternative pathways in partnership with community and local agencies, and improving outcomes for low-income children and families.

Once you hear it, the concept sounds obvious: shifting money from the criminal justice system and into those communities where it is most needed — so that people don’t commit offences in the first place. And, if they do, using programs to rehabilitate people without sending them to prison.

The benefits for young people is especially clear — with smarter investment in community programs, young people are much more likely to enjoy a brighter future.

A young Indigenous woman in Bourke with Amnesty Indigenous Rights Campaigner, Tammy Solonec
© Lisa Hogben / AI

Bourke’s solution

At a community meeting in the New South Wales town of Bourke in 2013, local Aboriginal leaders and young people articulated a vision for a more coordinated and community-led approach to the problems facing their community.

Alistair Ferguson, a Bourke Aboriginal leader explains:

“Too many of my community were being locked up. Kids were being taken away … Families were being shattered, again and again…and this was happening despite the huge amount of money government was channeling through the large number of service organisations in this town.”

“Kids were being taken away … Families were being shattered, again and again…and this was happening despite the huge amount of money government was channeling through the large number of service organisations in this town.”

“We started talking together … We decided that a new way of thinking and doing things needed to be developed that helped our children.”

Recognising that the local community was best placed to develop solutions to help kids and families flourish, the Aboriginal leadership in Bourke developed a comprehensive agenda for change.

The Bourke Tribal Council, which comprises of 21 different language groups, reached out to not-for-profit organisation Just Reinvest NSW and asked the question: is justice reinvestment something that could help us to find alternate pathways for our young people?

The answer was ‘yes’, and the community set about working with Just Reinvest to secure corporate and philanthropic funding, and to bring together government agencies, including Police, health, statistics, treasury, Aboriginal affairs, education and housing – no small achievement in itself!

And Maranguka was born.

What does Maranguka do?

Maranguka is a Ngemba Nation word which translates as ‘to give to the people’, ‘caring’ and ‘offering help’ — and that’s exactly what it does.

Maranguka is a Ngemba Nation word which translates as ‘to give to the people’, ‘caring’ and ‘offering help’ — and that’s exactly what it does.

The trailblazing Maranguka initiative is all about helping Aboriginal kids stay out of trouble and away from prison. It’s spearheaded by the Bourke Tribal Council, which comprises leaders from 21 different language groups.

All these stakeholders are working towards the one goal, which is to build a stronger, safer community.

Community members are now working with their young people and partners to tackle some initial issues that contribute to young people’s involvement with the justice system.

The community is developing a driver licensing program and a program to support people to stick to bail conditions. They are also consulting with stakeholders about a warrant clinic to create support plans for young people who have committed less serious offences, which will help them stay out of custody.

The pioneering Aboriginal Elders and leaders of Bourke are leading the way in taking the concept of justice reinvestment and putting it in the hands of Aboriginal Peoples.

Now we need our government on board

Despite the promise of this and other brilliant community led-initiatives, too often community programs struggle for support. Our government is still separating Indigenous kids from communities. Indigenous kids are 24 times more likely to be removed from their communities and locked up than their non-Indigenous classmates.

Maranguka has developed a watertight case for justice reinvestment to be implemented in Bourke. They will then take that case to the New South Wales Government for action. But it’s going to take wider support to see solutions like this rolled out across Australia.

There are plenty of smarter approaches out there; they just need to be nurtured. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders know the answer — now governments need to see it too.

 

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