Reducing incarceration using Justice Reinvestment: an exploratory case study

Cowra's youth of today helping Cowra's youth of tomorrow

We invite you to participate in this research project, which explores the theory and methodology of Justice Reinvestment.

What is Justice Reinvestment?

In brief, Justice Reinvestment (JR) is a rethinking of the criminal justice system whereby taxpayer funds are reinvested into the community instead of being spent on imprisoning people for low-level criminal activity. JR retains detention as a measure of last resort.

At a broad level, JR requires a shift in policy and social outlook from incarceration to non-incarceration, to reinvest the large sums of taxpayer money currently being spent in imprisoning people, back into the community.

JR includes all levels of government and non-government organisations, as well as service providers, the education sector, the health sector and judiciary. It is an idea which could lead to policy options in reaching an agreement about how to re-think the criminal justice system.

Who is undertaking this research project?

The research project is being led by Dr Jill Guthrie from the National Centre for Indigenous Studies (NCIS) at The Australian National University (ANU). Other investigators are Professor Mick Dodson (NCIS-ANU), Dr Phyll Dance (ANU), Dr Kamalini Lokuge (ANU), Dr Tom Calma (NCIS-ANU), Professor Michael Levy (ANU), Professor Tony Butler (UNSW), and Professor Lisa Strelein (Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs).

In addition, the research is being guided by a Research Reference Group comprising Cowra Mayor – Councillor Bill West, Cowra Shire Council General Manager – Mr Paul Devery, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council Chair – Ms Nioka Craigie-Coe, Cowra Aboriginal Land Council member – Mr Les Coe and other representatives of the Cowra Aboriginal Land Council, President of the NSW Children's Court – Judge Peter Johnstone, ANU-based Human Rights Lawyer – Professor Pene Mathew, and US-based Justice Reinvestment academic – Professor Todd Clear.

The project is being funded through the Australian Research Council.

What is the research project timeline?

The research project commenced in April 2013 and will continue until March 2016. Several meetings of the Research Reference Group have occurred during the past 12 months.

Once our research has been conducted – and if we are able to secure funds and there is consensus for and commitment to trialing initiatives – an implementation study may follow.

What might be some research project outcomes?

In essence, this project is an exploratory study involving a conversation with Cowra people in order to identify what enables young people to lead meaningful lives in Cowra.

It is important to note that this project is not about implementing JR initiatives in Cowra.

For young people who may have become involved with the criminal justice system, we will also explore the conditions, the understandings, and the agreements that would need to be in place so that those young people who are incarcerated elsewhere can confidently come back to the town, and to keep those young people who are at risk of incarceration from coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

The research could potentially result in findings and recommendations for addressing the levels of young people (whether Indigenous or non-Indigenous) coming into contact with the criminal justice system.

Who would we like to speak with in Cowra?

The research project is inclusive of all cultures: we would like to hear from young people who identify as Indigenous (Koori) and we also want to hear from non-Indigenous young people, as well as their Indigenous and/or non-Indigenous parents, guardians and carers.

There are four groups of people that we hope to interview during this research project:

  • young people aged 16-24 years living in Cowra and some of their parents, guardians and/or carers
  • people of any age who are living in Cowra and who have been involved with the NSW Juvenile Justice system
  • young people aged 16-24 years who are residents of Cowra and who are currently in the NSW Juvenile Justice system or the NSW Corrective Services system
  • Cowra service providers.

Further information and contacts

Further details about the research project are available from:

Dr Jill Guthrie
Research Fellow
The Australian National University
Acton ACT 0200

02 6125 0782

The ethical aspects of this research have been approved by the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee. If you have any concerns or complaints about how this research has been or is being conducted, please contact:

Ethics Manager
The ANU Human Research Ethics Committee
The Australian National University
Acton ACT 0200

02 6125 3427

Updated:  12 July 2016/ Responsible Officer:  NCIS Project Coordinator/ Page Contact:  NCIS Administrative Officer