It seemed a most unlikely marriage: the NSW outback town of Bourke and a New York think tank run by the American billionaire philanthropist George Soros, writes Robert Milliken at Inside Story.
But five years after the Darling River town adopted the think tank’s idea for tackling crime among young Aboriginal people, it has achieved a remarkable turnaround. Last year Bourke saved over $3 million, mainly in costs to its criminal justice system, from rolling out Australia’s most advanced example of an approach known as “justice reinvestment.”
Bourke’s Aboriginal community formed a partnership with Just Reinvest NSW, a Sydney-based body, to start the project. It had a pressing cause. About a third of Bourke’s 3000 people identify as Aboriginal, and for more than twenty years this community has had the state’s highest rates of juvenile crime and domestic violence. Old government law-and-order methods, costing billions of dollars, were simply not working.
The Bourke people called their alternative the Maranguka Justice Reinvestment Project. Its underlying strategy, drawn from the Soros think tank, is that governments should stop building yet more prisons and divert the funds to community projects designed to help people stay out of them.
Five years after the Bourke project started, its dividends are proving impressive. After following its progress, the accounting firm KPMG produced a report in late November estimating a “gross impact” of $3.1 million in 2017. About two-thirds came from lower costs in the justice system.
Even more striking were improvements in the main areas where justice reinvestment has focused in Bourke: domestic violence, juvenile crime and early childhood development. KPMG reported a 23 per cent drop in police-recorded domestic violence in 2017; a 31 per cent rise in Year 12 student retention rates; a 38 per cent fall in five main juvenile offence categories; a 14 per cent cut in bail breaches; and a 42 per cent reduction in days spent in custody.
Breakthrough at Bourke (Inside Story)