Queensland government to trial relocation sentencing instead of juvenile detention for youth crime

queensland government to trial relocation sentencing instead of juvenile detention for youth crime

Relocation sentencing would focus on the rehabilitation and upskilling of young offenders. (Supplied: Mona Aboriginal Corporation)

The Queensland government will introduce a form of relocation sentencing to address the state’s youth crime issues and take pressure off the juvenile detention system.

Queensland Premier Steven Miles said there was no “one simple solution to stop all youth offending”.

“Evidence tells us that on country programs have had some real success,” he said.

“This program will provide First Nations young people with ‘on-country’ experiences and culturally informed interventions, while also providing connection and an opportunity to change offending behaviour.”

There will be designated facilities in outback locations across the state that would focus on rehabilitation and vocational work.

A mandatory requirement of the procurement process for the new program will be that the service is delivered by, or in partnership with, an Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander community-controlled organisation.

The government is inviting Expressions of Interest.

A similar model has been pushed by Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) for several years and has amassed support from communities affected by youth crime.

“Youth detention centres are a waste of time, they are training grounds for criminals,” said Kyle Yanner, mayor of the remote and predominantly Indigenous community of Mornington Island in Queensland’s gulf country.

“Things need to change and this is a step in the right direction.”

How is relocation sentencing different?

Many on-country rehabilitation programs exist in Queensland and involve small groups of at-risk youths being taken out bush for a few weeks.

However, the programs are not mandatory.

Many lose funding and are discontinued despite success.

Relocation sentencing would allow magistrates to mandate youth participation in the program which would also run for at least six to 12 months, according to KAP leader Robbie Katter.

Mr Katter said there would ideally be at least 20 relocation sentencing facilities scattered across the state and each should cater to the youths who attended them.

He said there were already remote residents interested in running relocation sentencing in their regions but needed the legislation to be able to make young offenders participate.

“You can easily get this program up and running with partners across the state but you need that sentencing option to force kids to do the work and to regulate and logistically support the people running the program,” he said.

Community support

Mr Yanner said remote locations such as Mornington Island were ideal for relocation sentencing.

“We’ve got cattle leases and we can train kids up to work on stations, learn new skills, work with horses,” Mr Yanner said.

“You put these kids in a beautiful, peaceful place away from temptations, keep them busy and proactive … love and nurture them through their problems and equip them with knowledge, skills and confidence they can take back.”

Transparency, accountability key

Former youth justice program manager Karl Howard said he had 15 years of experience delivering on-country programs to youth offenders in the Northern Territory where on-country programs were mandatory.

He said the legal requirement of relocation sentencing was crucial to its success.

“If the program is voluntary, the statistics show that the offender does not engage with that process and services often fail to ensure they do,” he said.

Mr Howard said the remote location of the program was also essential.

“The camps have to be 100 kilometres from anywhere so that the kids can’t run away,” he said.

“I’ve only seen one kid attempt to run away and the youth workers were able to handle that situation.”

He said cross-organisation information sharing, transparency and accountability of services linking up with any potential model were also key.

“It does work when information is shared between all government departments and non-government organisations need to be held responsible,” he said.

“It cannot be a tick and flick exercise just to meet the KPIs.”

Expression of Interest applications will be open from February 21, 2024, to March 12, 2024.

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