Mission Australia is calling for further investment in models and programs that have been proven to reduce and prevent recidivism and a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to young people becoming homeless when they exit youth detention centres.

The call comes following Mission Australia’s Queensland and Northern Territory State Director, Darren Young’s presentation to the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory on Friday 14 May.

Detention of young people should always be a last resort. Young people who are caught up in the juvenile justice system often come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have a range of issues which compound their situation.

“To break the cycle of poverty, homelessness, substance abuse, mental health concerns and crime, we need to look at how we can take a rehabilitative approach, rather than punishing young people for their background. Providing adequate supports during detention and after release are vital to set the young person on a positive course for their future.

“Currently, there is insufficient service provision across the spectrum of supports for young people in the NT, including severe gaps in transitional accommodation for young people exiting detention. As a result, too many young people become homeless or are at risk of homelessness on release. Vulnerable young people in the Northern Territory need access to a continuum of supports from early intervention, to supports while in detention, and post-release case management,” said Mr Young.

Mr Young highlighted existing evidence-based programs that should be expanded and replicated in the Northern Territory to reduce local juvenile incarceration. The program recommendations included expanding Mission Australia’s ‘Spin 180’ case management program in Darwin and other areas and replicating the ‘Supervised Community Accommodation’ (SCA) model in Townsville to Northern Territory cities and towns. The SCA is a 24/7 supervised accommodation option for 16-17 years old males in Townsville who are leaving detention and are homeless or at risk of homelessness, many of whom identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.

Townsville’s SCA has a very low proportion of young people re-offending post placement. Young people live in the SCA house for up to six months and receive tailored case management support to assist them in achieving their personal, developmental and welfare goals and to develop the skills they need to transition to semi-independent and independent housing. They are also supported to reconnect with their family. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander mentors are available and the team holds cultural camps every three months.

“The cultural camps involve two night trips on local, traditional country with local elders. The camps offer a safe place for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people who are involved in the criminal justice system and are at high risk of reoffending to engage in culturally appropriate activities. For young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, it is especially important for them to connect with cultural identity. A strong sense of cultural identity and belonging goes a long way in improving wellbeing and can be a protective factor during times of transition,” said Mr Young.

Mr Young said investment in appropriate programs in the Northern Territory will help reduce youth homelessness and juvenile recidivism as well as reduce the high costs to the government of young people’s engagement with the juvenile justice system.

“If we invest early, we can support young people’s aspirations while at the same time diverting juvenile offenders away from the juvenile justice system. The costs of detention for young people can be as high as $440,000 per individual per year and there is a very high likelihood of re-offending as people are returned to the community with no skills or support.

“By providing extra supports and replicating proven models and services in the Northern Territory, we can create a pathway to independence, break the cycle of crime and provide a hopeful future for these young people,” said Mr Young.

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