Saturday, May 19, 2012

Prisoner welfare group will close without continued Government assistance

Kirrin McKechnie | 730 Queensland | 18 May 2012

Sister Inside confirms Townsville programme forced to shut down.

Watch the video here

JESSICA van VONDEREN: Last year, the prisoners support service Sisters Inside set up an outreach programme at the Townsville jail, with the help of a 120-thousand dollar grant from the then Bligh Government. Already this year, that service has helped 188 female prisoners break the cycle of crime. But now, the Newman Government has withdrawn the funding. The Communities Minister says Sisters Inside can try to reapply for money under the proper processes. But the group's founder says the cut will be catastrophic for the mainly indigenous prisoners who benefited from the service, and for the wider community. Kirrin McKechnie reports.

RENEE, FORMER PRISONER: I just went straight from the pot to the heroin. I didn't touch anything else. And then that's why I went downhill. I didn't want to rely on anyone, didn't want to rob anyone, so that's why I became a prostitute.

KIRRIN McKECHNIE: It's been a tough, rough road for this 33-year-old mother of two. But she's starting afresh: moving into a new home, and looking forward to what lies ahead for the first time in a long time.

RENEE: Once I got the job and saw what a happy life everyone was leading, I went on a boat for the first time. I remember. And I just had so much fun. And going to the beach and just doing normal things that I'd never done before. And it was wonderful.

KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee doesn't want to give her last name, because she's afraid her dark past could catch up with her. Yet despite her fears, she wants to speak out to help the support service that she says saved her life.

RENEE: I cannot think of a better way to give back than by doing this. So, they helped me I'll help them.

KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee was on her second of three stretches in jail for drugs and prostitution related crimes when she was contacted by Sisters Inside, a support service for women in prison. It was their constant contact and support that made her determined to get off heroin and get off the game.

RENEE: A nice lady called Jackie, she came up to see me every week, spoke to me every week. And then she picked me up from the jail and we went and got a bond loan and I got a house and I got a job and I've been clean ever since.

KIRRIN McKECHNIE: Renee's story is by no means unique. Every year Sisters Inside helps hundreds of women like her break the cycle of crime and poverty. But now, its Townsville outreach service is under threat, with the Newman Government pulling its $120,000 funding.

DEBBIE KILROY, SISTERS INSIDE: I'll have to travel to Townsville and tell those women that it's over. We can't provide the services anymore and I find that distressing and I'm sorry. Cause I have to say I don't know how I'm going to walk away from the women. My life passion is about walking with and assisting women to move forward and do well and not go back to prison not commit crimes, not use drugs anymore raise their children, be healthy functioning families so they're ok. But I'm going to have to go up there and say sorry we can't do anything anymore.

Obama’s new free speech threat

Glenn Greenwald | | May 16 2012

An Executive order seeks to punish U.S. citizens even for "indirectly" obstructing dictatorial rule in Yemen

(updated below – Update II)

There is substantial opposition in both Yemen and the West to the new U.S.-backed Yemeni President, Abed Rabbo Mansour Hadi. Hadi was the long-time Vice President of the Yemeni dictator Ali Abdullah Saleh, and after Saleh finally stepped down last year, Hadi became President as part of an “election” in which he was the only candidate (that little fact did not prevent Hillary Clinton from congratulating Yemen “on today’s successful presidential election” (successful because the U.S. liked the undemocratic outcome)). As it does with most U.S.-compliant dictators in the region, the Obama administration has since been propping up Hadi with large amounts of money and military assistance, but it is now taking a much more extreme step to ensure he remains entrenched in power — a step that threatens not only basic liberties in Yemen but in the U.S. as well:
President Obama plans to issue an executive order Wednesday giving the Treasury Department authority to freeze the U.S.-based assets of anyone who “obstructs” implementation of the administration-backed political transition in Yemen.
The unusual order, which administration officials said alsotargets U.S. citizens who engage in activity deemed to threaten Yemen’s security or political stability, is the first issued for Yemen that does not directly relate to counterterrorism.
Unlike similar measures authorizing terrorist designations and sanctions, the new order does not include a list of names or organizations already determined to be in violation. Instead, one official said, it is designed as a “deterrent” to “make clear to those who are even thinking of spoiling the transition” to think again. . . .
The order provides criteria to take action against people who the Treasury secretary, in consultation with the secretary of state, determines have “engaged in acts that directly or indirectly threaten the peace, security or stability of Yemen, such as acts that obstruct the implementation of the Nov. 23, 2011, agreement between the Government of Yemen and those in opposition to it, which provides for a peaceful transition of power . . . or that obstruct the political process in Yemen.”
In other words, the U.S. Government will now punish anyone who is determined — in the sole discretion of the U.S. Government — even to “indirectly” obstruct the full transition of power to President Hadi. But what if someone — a Yemeni or an American — opposes Hadi’s rule and wants to agitate for a real election in which more than one candidate runs? Is that pure political advocacy, as it appears, now prohibited by the U.S. Government, punishable by serious sanctions, on the ground that it “obstructs” the transition of power to Hadi? Can journalists who report on corruption or violence by the Hadi regime and who write Op-Eds demanding a new election be accused, as it seems, of “threatening Yemen’s political stability”?

The NYPD's criminal stop-and-frisk record

Darius Charney | The Guardian |  15 May 2012 

A march earlier this month against the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, led by community leaders and Princeton University professor and activist Cornel West. Photograph: Scott Houston/Corbis

The police department's policy amounts to racial profiling and the illegal harassment of thousands of New Yorkers a day.

Last week, the New York Police Department released quarterly data on its stop-and-frisk program. The numbers are worse than ever, and they confirm everything that is wrong with this practice.

From January through March 2012, 203,500 New Yorkers were stopped and frisked. That's an average of 2,200 people per day. Twenty-two hundred people a day, many of whom are stopped for no reason – or the wrong reason, like the color of their skin, or their age, or their gender expression – patted down, sometimes roughed-up, intimidated, asked for ID in their own neighborhood, sometimes in their own buildings, asked to empty their pockets. Twenty-two hundred people a day stopped by police as they walk down the street on their way home, to school, the corner deli, or to see friends. Twenty-two hundred people a day asked to justify their presence in the city in which they live.

This is already an outrage; but if you look further at the numbers, it's even more outrageous. Despite years of public outcry and lawsuits, theNYPD is stopping even more people than in previous years. In 2011, the department stopped a record 685,724 New Yorkers, a 600% increase since Raymond Kelly took over as police commissioner in 2002. But the 2012 numbers are on track to be still worse. At the rate it's going, the NYPD will stop nearly three-quarters of a million New Yorkers in 2012.

Eight-seven per cent of the people stopped by the NYPD in the first quarter of 2012 were black or Latino, while only 54% of the city's population is black or Latino. Despite claims to the contrary, the data show that even when you take other factors into consideration – including crime rates –stops are disproportionately concentrated in black and Latino neighborhoods. And in all neighborhoods, blacks and Latinos are significantly more likely to be stopped than whites. The data also show that NYPD officers use physical force more often when stopping blacks and Latinos.

Stop-and-frisk, as practiced by the NYPD, amounts to racial profiling, which is illegal. It violates the 14th amendment of the US constitution, which prohibits racial discrimination, and the fourth amendment, which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures.

Stop-and-frisk also fails to make New Yorkers safer. There is an implied trade-off that New Yorkers are told to accept: OK, so the practice is intrusive and humiliating and it violates your rights, but it's necessary to fight crime. That is a lie. The vast majority of stop-and-frisks – 90%, in the first quarter of 2012 – do not uncover evidence of a crime. Less than 1% lead to recovery of guns, the supposed goal of the stop-and-frisk program.

The NYPD is not catching criminals; they are stopping and humiliating thousands of New Yorkers a day who have done nothing wrong.

There is no evidence that stop-and-frisk is responsible for the city's drop in crime rate in recent years. On the contrary, New Yorkers feel less safe and often have their lives upended by unlawful stops. Many communities, especially communities of color, feel that they are under siege. To them, the presence of police on the streets signals not protection against crime, but a danger of becoming the victims of a crime: being illegally stopped, harassed, possibly beat up.

The Center for Constitutional Rights is suing New York City to end these gross violations of hundreds, or thousands, of people's rights. Occupying entire neighborhoods and treating vast portions of the city's citizenry as suspects violates the US constitution and fundamental human rights.

Teacher fired over pregnancy can sue religious school

Terry Baynes | Reuters | May 16 2012

An appeals court on Wednesday revived a Florida teacher's lawsuit against a Christian school that fired her after she admitted to conceiving a child before her marriage.

Overturning a lower court ruling in the school's favor, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit found that Jarretta Hamilton was entitled to a trial on her claims of pregnancy discrimination by the Southland Christian School in St. Cloud, Florida.

The fourth-grade teacher informed administrators in April 2009 that she was pregnant and needed to take maternity leave. During the conversation, she admitted that she had conceived the child three weeks before her February wedding.

The school fired her a week later. Administrator John Ennis explained that "there are consequences for disobeying the word of God," according to the court opinion.

Hamilton sued the school in 2010 under a federal law that bars discrimination based on pregnancy, seeking compensation for lost wages and emotional distress.

A federal district court ruled in the school's favor before a trial, finding that Hamilton failed to establish that she was fired for her pregnancy rather than moral concerns over her premarital sex.

The three-judge appeals panel disagreed.

The Atlanta-based court pointed to evidence that the school may have been more concerned about Hamilton's request for leave than about her admission to having premarital sex.

Ennis expressed concern over finding a replacement teacher, Hamilton testified.

"Hamilton has established a genuine issue of material fact about the reason that Southland fired her. The ultimate issue is one for a jury to decide," Judge Edward Carnes wrote for the unanimous panel, sending the case back to the lower court for a trial.

David Gibbs, a lawyer for Southland Christian School, said in a statement that he would vigorously defend the school's religious rights before the district court. Edward Gay, who represented Hamilton, was not immediately available for comment.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Public opinion and sentencing reform

Stephen Whitehead | nef | 14 May 2012

New research reveals a public that is more open to reform than those who claim to speak for them.

The prospect of a new crime and justice bill, heralded by last week’s Queen’s speech, is likely to re-awaken debate around the coalition’s sentencing policy. While its latest proposals around community sentences are still at the consultation stage, the bill is another step in the coalition’s programme of cutting costs and increasing transparency in the justice system.

The community punishment reforms in the consultation, and those in this week’s speech, are much more cautious however, than those that Ken Clarke had in mind when he took office in 2010. The much vaunted rehabilitation revolution has crumbled under heavy fire, most of it from his own side. Tabloids and Tory back-benchers lambasted his plans as soft on crime and out-of-touch with public opinion.

One of the key attacks was made by Tory peer, former deputy party chairman and part-time citizen of Belize Lord Ashcroft. In a 2011 pamphlet entitled Crime, Punishment and the People Ashcroft argued that increased use of community sentences ‘command woefully little support’ amongst the public. A stark opinion poll outlined the public’s verdict – 81% thought that sentencing was too lenient, while only 3% thought it too harsh.

The argument, then, was clear: the British public demand tougher sentences and to ignore them was both politically inept and undemocratic. But a more sophisticated investigation of public opinion casts doubt on this analysis. Researchers from Oxford University and London’s Institute of Crime Policy Research investigated the way in which the public made their judgements about sentencing. They found that when asked to consider a range of mitigating circumstances, respondents would often consider a community sentence even for a crime which in the real world would almost always result in custody. When given the hypothetical case of a person convicted of a serious assault, 69% of respondents thought a community penalty would be appropriate if it was a first offense, 65% if the offender was caring for small children, and 64% if the offender was remorseful and apologised.

While the hangers and floggers in parliament or Fleet Street may whip up a storm about any proposal which seeks to reverse or even slow the unsustainable increase in our prison population, this research suggests that the public are more open to reform than those who claim to speak for them. The obstacle for reformers then, is not one of public sentiment but rather of bandwidth. If they can overcome the myths around crime and sentencing and engage the public in a serious debate about who really needs to be in prison, they may find more traction than they expect.

Public discussion enters the age of the uninformed

Jonathan Green | The Drum | 10 May 2012

Can somebody tell me what happened? Can someone explain how in the space of just a decade our public discussion has been hijacked by the ignorant and the bigoted and their boosters in the mass media?

And there's a more important question, how did the once authoritative political class let it happen?

You may or may not have watched Four Corners on Monday: a gripping report that recalled the High Court's Mabo finding in 1992 and Paul Keating's subsequent political quest to put legislation round the court's repudiation of terra nullius and enshrining of native title. The history of our Commonwealth has had few more significant - or challenging - turning points.

Like all documentaries of this type, the Four Corners report did more than simply shed light on its central subject. There was much else to see besides, little snippets that also illuminated the political and media culture of the time. This exchange between Paul Keating and a talkback caller on John Laws' 2UE morning program in 1993 was stunning, an absolute show stopper.

Caller: Good morning.

John Laws: Okay, the Prime Minister is here.

Caller: Yes, good morning. Just a very broad question, Mr Keating, is: why does your government see the Aboriginal people as a much more equal people than the average white Australian?

Paul Keating: We don't. We see them as equal.

Caller: Well, you might say that, but all the indications are that you don't.

Paul Keating: But what's implied in your question is that you don't; you think that non-Aboriginal Australians, there ought to be discrimination in their favour against blacks.

Caller: Not... whatsoever. I... I don't say that at all. But my... myself and every person I talk to - and I'm not racist - but every person I talk to...

Paul Keating: But that's what they all say, don't they? They put these questions - they always say, "I'm not racist, but, you know, I don't believe that Aboriginal Australians ought to have a basis in equality with non-Aboriginal Australians. Well, of course, that's part of the problem.

Caller: Aren't they more equal than us at the moment, with the preferences they get?

Paul Keating: More equal? They were... I mean, it's not for me to be giving you a history lesson - they were largely dispossessed of the land they held.

Caller: There's a question over that. I think a lot of people will tell you that. You're telling us one thing...

Paul Keating: Well, if you're sitting on the title of any block of land in NSW, you can bet an Aboriginal person at some stage was dispossessed of it.

Caller: You know that for sure, do you?

Paul Keating: Of course we know it for sure!

Caller: Yeah, [inaudible].

Paul Keating: You're challenging the High Court decision, are you? You're saying the High Court got this all wrong.

Caller: No, I'm not saying that at all! I wouldn't know who was on the High Court.

Paul Keating: Well, why don't you sign off, if you don't know anything about it and you're not interested. Good bye!

Caller: Yeah, well, that's your ...

Paul Keating: No, I mean, you can't challenge these things and then say, "I don't know about them".

John Laws: Oh well, he's gone.

It really sets you back in your chair. From a contemporary perspective this seems an extraordinary act of political courage, of reckless honesty. A politician on talkback radio telling someone with no real knowledge of the issue beyond a gut feel that it rankles their deepest prejudices, that they are not entitled, under those terms, to enter the discussion.

You just know that today, the caller would be indulged; their opinion flattered with undue attention. So it is that today we see a political discussion that rather than excluding or marginalising the voices of the uninformed, angry and blindly polemical, is in fact conditioned, directed and dominated by them.

Look at our endless to and fro over asylum seekers... a debate in which the national government happily sets aside its obligations under international law and convention, never mind any reasonable notion of what is moral, in order to placate a vocal core of constituents whose shallow xenophobia and nebulous economic anxieties are amplified by talk back radio and the tabloids of TV and print.

Same for climate change. Five years ago we had something near to a national consensus based on unambiguous science, a consensus cynically talked down often through shorthand distortions and misrepresentations pitched at the uninformed.

Today few politicians dare confront these tides or take a stand against it. The tail has wagged the dog.

Where Paul Keating thought nothing of speaking his mind, Julia Gillard sits in the same studio as Alan Jones, is called a liar to her face and brushes off the insult. This is not an audience the modern politician dare offend and the result is to diminish the authority of our leaders. Team it with the reflex anxiety over every nuance of polling and we end up with a discussion that is easily mired in misconception and the darker sub currents of the national psyche.

To be reminded of Keating's boldness and certainty is to recall that we have lost more than his trademark arrogant pugnaciousness in the intervening decade. We've also lost political leadership, surrendering it to belligerent ignorance at high volume. You get the feeling that the modern politician, seeing that Keating talkback video would be schooled: "see that's the arrogance that cost him''. And that's cost us.

Jonathan Green hosts Sunday Extra on Radio National and is the former editor of The Drum. View his full profile here.

Jails' new advocate

Heath Aston | Sun Herald | May 13, 2012

Prison officers will be able to air their grievances to an independent body without fear of retribution in one of the biggest shake-ups of the NSW jail system.

An inspector of prisons will be appointed in tandem with a new Corrective Services Commissioner, The Sun-Herald can reveal. The new position will be announced by the state government today, just weeks after it showed long-time Commissioner Ron Woodham the door.

The inspector of custodial services will work with Mr Woodham's replacement, but will only answer to Parliament and the Attorney-General, Greg Smith.

Representatives of the state's 3800 prison officers welcomed the creation of the inspectorate but warned the inspector must be allowed to ''implement reform, not just spruik it''.

Mr Smith said the inspector would be a champion for prisons and prisons officers. ''He or she will go into bat for anyone who feels the system can be improved, and anyone who provides information will be protected,'' he said.

''The new position will build public confidence in the justice system and ensure that correctional facilities are safe, secure and operate to a high standard. Prison officers will also be able to air their concerns without fear of being harassed or having their careers prejudiced as a result of assisting an inspector.''

Government sources said the creation of an independent inspector was a direct strike at the opaque structure of the present prison system under the leadership of Mr Woodham, the ''old school'' chief who rose from prison warden to commissioner to hold the top job for the past decade.

Mr Smith was frustrated at being stonewalled when seeking information last year over the death in Grafton jail of Ian Klum, a 52-year-old locked up for traffic offences. Surveillance footage showed prison officers looking on as Mr Klum crawled between cells before later dying of a brain haemorrhage.

Mr Woodham's replacement is expected to be in place by July 1.

The inspector will deal with all complaints from wardens and visitors while prisoners will still take their complaints to the ombudsman.

The position will be legislated in the Inspector of Custodial Services Bill 2012, to be introduced to Parliament shortly.

The inspector, who will be appointed to a five-year term - and can only be reappointed once - is likely to be drawn from the ranks of the judiciary. The independent statutory body led by the inspector will have jurisdiction over all correctional centres, including juvenile institutions, residential facilities, transitional centres and court and police cells managed by Corrective Services or Juvenile Justice.

The position will be modelled on an independent inspector in Western Australia. A similar position exists in systems in England, Scotland and Wales.

Police chief pushes for bottle shop clampdown

Sean Nicholls | SMH | May 14, 2012

Domestic violence is the "iceberg" of excessive drinking ... NSW Police Comissioner Andrew Scipione. Photo: Jacky Ghossein

THE Police Commissioner, Andrew Scipione, has questioned the lack of regulation of purchases from bottle shops and linked the easy availability of take-away alcohol to stubbornly high rates of domestic violence.

The issue will be examined, at Mr Scipione's request, by a new alcohol policy working group comprising senior police and bureaucrats who will present options to the state government.

The Herald can reveal that the group, formed this year, is conducting a comprehensive review of the alcohol licensing system in response to an offer by the Premier, Barry O'Farrell, last year to give police whatever support they needed to tackle alcohol-related violence.

The group will also examine the concentration of outlets, which it believes is a critical issue for alcohol policy.

In an interview about measures the police are taking to combat alcohol-related violence, Mr Scipione said the numbers of alcohol-related assaults of a non-domestic nature had been falling significantly for the past few years.

''The bit that is not falling as much is the domestic violence, where alcohol is a factor. That's the frightening bit,'' he said.

''Of course, that's predominantly being fed through takeaway bottle shops. I think it's worth looking at the impact and, necessarily, the sort of policy we might need to develop to inform government in this area.''

NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research data shows that between 2007 and 2011, the average annual rate of alcohol-related domestic violence fell 2.6 per cent, compared with a 5.3 per cent drop in other alcohol-related assaults.

Mr Scipione said the visible effects of excessive drinking on weekends and at big events were the tip of the issue but domestic violence was emerging as the ''iceberg'' of alcohol policy.

''That's what worries me - when there are incentives given to people to come in and fill up the car [with alcohol but] if you wanted to buy it over the bar you would have severe restrictions,'' Mr Scipione said.

''In this situation you can go and fill the car up and as quickly as you can throw it down your throat you can come back the next day and fill it up again.

''There is no responsibility in this and by its nature there's not, because it's something that's done in private. But what we do know is that it's causing enormous damage, particularly to women and children.''

The commissioner quoted a national poll conducted for the Alcohol Education and Rehabilitation Foundation, published last month, which showed 69 per cent of adults supported a ban on alcohol advertising on television before 8.30pm.

Acknowledging the issue of advertising was largely a federal one, Mr Scipione still said there were concerns with the marketing done by bottle shops.

''I know there's a problem, at least in my mind, when I've got a brochure that gets shoved into my letterbox at home and it shows me I can buy a can of beer effectively cheaper than I can go downstairs here at lunchtime and buy a can of Coke,'' he said.

The working group, which meets fortnightly, comprises representatives from the Attorney-General's Department and the Office of Liquor, Gaming and Racing as well as the commander of drug and alcohol co-ordination with the NSW Police, Superintendent Patrick Paroz, and the commander of major events and incidents, Assistant Commissioner Alan Clarke.

Mr Paroz said the group was examining licensing as ''the biggest-ticket issue'' and doing research into venue and outlet density as ''another critical issue''.

Mr Scipione said research showed venue density, trading hours and the strength of alcohol served, were key factors in alcohol-related violence.

''I think that there are some locations where there are good questions and there is good reason to ask these questions.

''All the research tells us that if you lower the density in these really highly dense locations then you will see a reduction in associated violence.''

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Petition to repeal s.6B Firearms Act

A few weeks back I posted this article about the tragic death of Lalin Fernando, who was killed by his daughter Shamin.

Shamin had been suffering with severe mental illness, which caused her to believe that she had to kill her father.  She joined a gun club, and there obtained a pistol and ammunition, despite not having a license.  She took these out of the gun club, and back home, where she used the skills she had practiced at the gun club to shoot her father.

Is it difficult to fathom how someone in such a state of mind could so easily do this.

But they can. The law as it presently stands actually allows a person to attend a gun club, and shoot pistols, without having had any training, without any need to be licensed to handle a gun, and without any background check at all.

The relevant provision is s.6B Firearms Act (NSW), an amendment which was introduced by the Shooters and Fishers Party in 2008, and supported by the NSW Labor government.

6B Exemption for unlicensed persons shooting on approved ranges and for persons undertaking firearms safety training courses

(1) A person is exempt from any requirement under this Act to be authorised by a licence or permit to possess or use a firearm (other than a prohibited firearm) if the person possesses or uses the firearm only:
(a) at a shooting range approved by the Commissioner in accordance with the regulations and while under the direct supervision of a person who is authorised by a licence to possess or use a firearm of that kind, or
(b) while participating in a firearms safety training course approved by the Commissioner in accordance with the regulations and while under the direct supervision of a firearms instructor approved by the Commissioner in accordance with the regulations.
(2) Any such exemption from the requirement to be authorised by a licence or permit to possess or use a firearm is subject to the requirements prescribed by the regulations.
(3) This section does not apply in relation to a person who is under the age of 12 years.
One would think that the exemption would be subject to stringent requirements, but turn to the regulations and you'll find the only requirement is that a person fill out a questionnaire and not answer 'yes' to questions like "are you currently suffering from any mental illness or other disorder that may prevent you from using a firearm safely?"

That and being supervised at all times by a licensed shooter, who must carry the weapon to and from the unlicensed self-declared sane person. Except when they're not supervising and instead leaving the weapon with the self-declared sane person to take home. And except when they are selling ammunition to the same person.

All of this occurred in the case of Shamin Fernando, who only had to lie about having a mental illness in order to legally practice killing her father, and then be in a position to walk out of the club with a gun.

The Fernando family have been campaigning to have s.6B Firearms Act (NSW) repealed. After this tragedy, you might question the case for the retention of the provision and its associated regulations in their current form.

A petition to the Police Minister, Michael Gallacher, has been set up on, urging the government to repeal this law. If you would like your support for the repeal to be registered, please consider adding your name to the petition.

Without this provision in its current form, a severely mentally ill person could not legally get their hands on a firearm. A good idea, you might think.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Prevention the only hope for young offenders, because cure is failing

Gino Vumbaca | SMH | May 02, 2012

In the aftermath of the Kings Cross police shooting of Aboriginal teenagers driving a stolen vehicle, the Herald has published an investigation into juvenile justice and how we deal with children that get into serious trouble.

It's sometimes too easy to look for someone to blame for youth crime - be it parents, government departments or others. What is harder to find are effective solutions, especially when they challenge the prevailing political and media orthodoxy.

Tonight, however, in what may be the start of some long overdue reform in NSW, the Governor, Marie Bashir, will launch a campaign to reduce the staggeringly high rate of young indigenous people in detention centres. It is led by the Aboriginal Legal Service and includes Michael Kirby, Mick Dodson, Bob Debus, Adam Goodes, Mick Gooda, Marcia Ella Duncan, Naomi Mayers, Nick Cowdery and other prominent Australians who want to make ''justice reinvestment'' the new norm.

If the current trajectory continues we are in real danger of losing a generation of young indigenous people. In NSW, they make up more than half of the detention population yet just 2.2 per cent of the general population. An Aboriginal youth facing the court system is 28 times more likely to be placed in juvenile detention than their non-indigenous counterparts. This is a shameful indictment of our current approach, which routinely consigns young Aboriginal people to detention. It cries out for a new approach that includes early intervention, prevention and diversion with incarceration as a last resort only - in short, what is becoming known around the world as ''justice reinvestment''.

Justice reinvestment is not about spending more of our taxes; it is about redirecting the current ineffective investments we are making in the justice system into areas and programs that can provide better, safer and healthier communities. It also reduces the extraordinary costs each time we put a juvenile in a detention centre or an adult in prison.

In NSW, the Auditor-General has revealed that the average annual cost of supervising and caring for juvenile offenders last year was $237,980 a person - a quarter of a million dollars a year for each young person locked up, and what do we get in return? The Australian Institute of Criminology has estimated that more than 30 per cent of adult prisoners were actually first incarcerated within the juvenile detention system. Given there are about 30,000 adult prisoners in the country and fewer than 1,000 juveniles in detention in any given year, that is a lot of juveniles going from detention to adult prison. It is also a system in which just under 60 per cent of NSW prisoners have previously served a sentence. In effect, our juvenile detention centres have become the learning centres for a cycle of offending and imprisonment.

The choices facing NSW today as the jurisdiction with the largest prison and juvenile detainee population are quite stark. We can continue on what is called the tough-on-crime path and replicate what is now known as the American disease. The US is home to 5 per cent of the world's people and 25 per cent of the world's prisoners. The prominent New York-based public health physician Ernie Drucker's recent book describes in epidemiological terms how this prisons ''plague'' has led to more than 2 million people being incarcerated, 800,000 on parole, and more than 4 million on probation. The ancillary effect of this type of justice means millions of children and family members of those incarcerated also come into regular and potentially damaging contact with the justice system.

The US, Russia and China lead the world in imprisonment. They show us the inevitable outcome of such tough policies. Enormous resources are being sucked out of other budget priorities, such as education and health, and they have high re-offending rates as people are churned through a brutal penal system and returned to the community.

NSW has not reached this point but finds itself on a similar path. I am not sure when developing policy based on evidence became synonymous with being soft rather than smart, but I think we should ask the next journalist, commentator or politician who portrays options other than prison as being ''soft'' what their view would be if their family member were facing incarceration. I would bet London to the proverbial brick they would stop at nothing to have them spared. This is because deep down they know, as does anyone who works or has been in prison, that it is an intimidating and violent system, and the last place where we can expect rehabilitation.

In contrast, justice reinvestment is about prevention rather than cure - about creating alternative pathways for young people who may otherwise be destined to lifelong offending, drug and alcohol misuse and suicide. When young people offend, there are likely to be other issues at play that are contributing. Justice reinvestment is our best option to target these causes and factors.

A think tank called Australia 21 recently called for a rethink on drug policy based on a review of the evidence and current approaches. One can only wonder how we can keep ignoring the evidence of our law and order policies. Just as a war on drugs can descend into a war against its citizens, a tough on crime approach can degenerate into a war against its most disadvantaged.

Gino Vumbaca is the executive director of the Australian National Council on Drugs and a member of the Campaign Committee.