Friday, April 15, 2011

The faces behind the statistics

By Ramahn Allam | Living Black | 15 April 2011 
Ramahn Allam met the people behind the juvenile justice statistics.
“On an average day in 2008–09, an Indigenous young person aged 10–17 years was almost 14 times as likely to be under community-based supervision as a non-Indigenous young person of the same age. The level of over-representation was even higher for detention. On an average day, an Indigenous young person aged 10–17 years was 24 times as likely to be detained as a non-Indigenous 10–17 year old. Although only 5% of young Australians are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, half of those in detention on an average day were Indigenous.” 
Source: AIHW 2011. Juvenile justice in Australia, 2008-09. Juvenile justice series. Cat. no. JUV 7. Canberra: AIHW. 
When did you stop reading? 
My guess is by the time you got to the third set of numbers in that quote from the above report, your eyes glazed over, you started thinking about talking cats on Youtube and got up from your armchair to make a cup of tea. 
Maybe not exactly all that detail, but the point is, almost 60 per cent of all prisoners in New South Wales detention centres are Aboriginal. 
When our legal team was checking this weekend’s story on the Youth Corroboree, seasoned lawyers were surprised at the statistic. But when presented with the human face of these statistics in the form of Aboriginal youth who have been through the juvenile justice system, statistics and numbers are almost irrelevant as it becomes apparent any of the young people that have been in the system from a very young age began life ‘behind the eight ball’. 
Sixteen-year-old Roderick Doolan’s story features in this package. It is depressingly far from unique.
He was just ten years of age when he was locked up in juvenile detention. His last stint inside was in correctional facility on the state’s Central Coast. Kariong Juvenile Correctional Centre was recently transferred to the custodianship of Corrective Services, the department that handles the administration of adult gaols across New South Wales. 
In his own words, Roderick says going into the new system was “a big change, just like going form primary school to high school”.
Roderick’s tale is soberingly common in the Western Sydney suburb of Mt Druitt, but a program run by the Ted Noffs Foundation and Housing for Aboriginal Youth Services, in conjunction with Blacktown City Council, is trying to put a dent in the depressing stats.
The program is called Youth Corroboree. It engages young people in the Blacktown City Council area to participate in a range of local events, while giving them training opportunities at the same time. 
Joanne Rudd is the Chairperson of Youth Corroboree and works closely with Aboriginal youth leaving Juvenile Justice. “They don't have a connnection to the their culture anymore... nearly every child I've worked with, they don't know where they come from.They don't know who their mob is. They don't have that connection to community spirit like you know I had when I was growing up … they don't finish their school, poor education poor social skills poor home life so its all a cycle, and it's just a vicious cycle,” she said. 
With more than a dozen young people involved, and the number growing, the success of the program is shown by the fact that none of the young people involved have re-offended.
Roderick hopes to ride out his parole with the help of Joanne and the other youth at the corroboree.
“After my parole finish I want to get my own house get a job and that and just relax,” he said. 
Relax into a future free from the criminal justice system.

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