The head of the St Vincent de Paul Society in New South Wales says it must be recognised that juvenile justice in Australia is an Aboriginal problem and that it needs to be dealt with accordingly.
He was one of the participants at a forum in Sydney last night which heard each young Australian offender costs hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to keep in detention, and that it is far cheaper to deal with them in the community.
A national report on young people in detention soon to be released calls on the Federal Government to adopt a radical preventative approach. St Vincent de Paul spokesman Graham West told the forum juvenile offenders needed more radical intervention than their adult counterparts.
"About half the population in juvenile justice is Aboriginal. This is an Aboriginal issue. The other issue that pops up immediately [is that] around 35 per cent have an IQ below 79," he said.
Mr West says it is time for a national rethink. Instead of dealing with the crime, he says, treat the symptoms.
"Justice reinvestment is about looking at what's causing people to end up there in the first place," he said.
"So rather than just we have a crime, we have people held responsible for it, and it goes back out, what's leading people in?
"We know Aboriginal communities are well and truly over represented around the nation and in knowing what communities they come from because we have that information, we can design interventions in those areas."
He says it is hard to define justice reinvestment, as every area is different. One successful pilot study in Newcastle reduced reoffending to a minimum. It involved an intensive supervision program for young offenders, where a worker was available 24 hours a day, could come around to their house and teach skills to their family. Mr West says programs which are family focused deliver some of the best returns.
"It's a whole approach premised on the fact that if we invest that money now, we don't have to invest $200,000 per year to keep someone in custody," he said.
"We can reduce those figures and that's where the reinvestment comes in."
Peter Murphy, one of the authors of an upcoming national report on young offenders and juvenile detention, warns justice reinvestment is a tough political commitment because at least at the start, it requires extra money.
"We need to continue with the current spend that we have around detention and community type programs, but concurrent with that, we actually need to start investing in communities where there is high rates of criminal behaviour," he said.
Mr Murphy says from a purely economical point of view, with an ageing population and a skills shortage, each Australian child is even more valuable than before.
"The Prime Minister has indicated we need every child to be succeeding in education and then joining the workforce, so we can't afford not to do it," he said.
Mr Murphy says political parties need to be in for the long haul. He estimates justice reinvestment will take about 10 years to deliver results.