• Bourke has seen improvements in just two years after the launch of a Justice Reinvestment project. (AAP)Source: AAP
The Justice Reinvestment project in the remote town of Bourke is steering at-risk youth away from the criminal justice system by focusing on early intervention.
Brooke Fryer

28 Nov 2018 - 8:58 AM  UPDATED 28 Nov 2018 - 2:01 PM

A grassroots project in a north-western New South Wales community has shown signs of success just two years after it began, with a particular focus on improving the lives of at-risk children and teens. 

The project aims at improving the lives of young people in the outback town of Bourke. 

In 2013, Bourke topped the list of locations with high criminal offences in six out of eight major crime categories, including breach of bail, trespassing, assault, and domestic violence. Around $4 million each year is said to have been spent in locking up young people in Bourke.

In response, the community invited Just Reinvest NSW to partner with them, aiming to reduce the high incarceration rates of the town's Indigenous youth. From there, the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project emerged. 

An assessment report on the Maranguka project was released in NSW parliament house yesterday showing not only reduced rates of contact with police, but also genuine signs of improvement in high school retention. 

The report, carried out by audit company KPMG, was based on data collected over a 12 month period. The report showed a 31 per cent increase in year 12 retention rates, and a 38 per cent drop across the 5 top juvenile offences. 

Zach Moore, a Wangkumara man and a communication and community engagement officer at the Maranguka Community Hub, said Bourke was a different place before the reinvestment project commenced. 

"It was a very different time back in the day," he said. "Today I believe it is a lot better. All services and community are working together as a group to better the community for the next generation, which is amazing." 

Mr Moore said he has seen the most change in youth development and behaviour, and believes the project has promoted more hope in the community.  

"It's bridging the gap, to show them that there's a better life that they can achieve. They can have dreams to chase, and that's where I see it, being a young person myself." 

Chairperson of Just Reinvest NSW, Sarah Hopkins, said the goal of the reinvestment project was to move excessive resources away from the prison system. 

"The ultimate goal was to shift resources out of the prison system and into communities, into crime prevention and early intervention and diversionary programs," Ms Hopkins said. 

"What they've seen is a strong reduction in youth offending, the number of days adults are spending in custody, as well as a reduction in domestic violence offences and driver licensing offences." 

The report shows a 23 per cent reduction in incidents of domestic violence, a 41 per cent reduction in adult bail breaches, and a 42 per cent decrease in adults spending days locked up. 

"Police are working with Maranguka in Bourke in a very different way," said Ms Hopkins. "They are really listening to what the community is saying and what the needs are." 

Just Reinvest NSW hoped the report prompted state governments nationwide to support similar strategies across other communities. 

It's not just a licence, it's a future
A new program seeks to stop high rates of incarceration for driving without a licence among Bourke's Indigenous population.
NSW government's prison-performance targets 'a bit of carrot cake': Aboriginal Legal Service
Let's focus on justice reinvestment targets over prison-performance targets to get Indigenous kids out of prison, says Aboriginal Legal Service CEO Gary Oliver.
How a selfie can build a teen's future and boost local pride
The ‘Back O’ Bourke’ may be enshrined in Aussie slang for its remote location, but its outback life is providing local Aboriginal high school students with a future career in photography and social media.