What does the next generation think of today’s issues? The Big Smoke’s Next Gen program publishes Australian students mentored by TBS writers. Today, Jake Graham (15) wonders if our detention centres could better aid our kids stuck in them.



Student: Jake Graham – 15 years old

Mentor: John Golden

Topic: An alternate approach to solving our juvenile detention industry


I’m lucky! I know how lucky I am. I live in a great suburb with parents who love me, but not every kid is this lucky.

Some kids grow up in an environment where violence and instability are the norm. Teenage years are hard enough. How much worse would they be living in an unstable home? So if the pathway of life isn’t clear for these kids, then it’s no wonder they can often take the wrong path.

So as a nation, as the “Lucky Country”, shouldn’t we be nurturing these kids and putting them back on the right path instead of placing them in a hole?

The infamous footage shown on the ABC highlighted the injustice many of such kids have suffered, particularly in the Northern Territory at the Don Dale and Alice Springs Correctional Centres. The footage shows rough handling and intimidation by the guards, the use of tear gas and long periods of solitary confinement. It showed a system where the damaged youth of Australia were placed in a situation that only damaged them further.

In Australia, juvenile detention is for kids aged from 10 to 17 years. They are placed into environments that are very similar to adult jails, the only difference being they are not adults – they are kids. Locking these kids up in an adult-style prison system and then have the very adults who are supposed to look after them instead mistreat them only creates more anger and resentment towards society.

Not only are they seen to regularly reoffend, but they are mixing with kids with worse criminal histories than their own, and this usually increases their own criminal behaviour. They lose self-esteem and build mistrust against adults. A toxic environment of “us against them” is created. Then we let them out into society again expecting that have learned their lessons through punishment and will become outstanding members of the community. It doesn’t make sense.

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This system is clearly not working. However, there are systems that do work. One centre in Missouri in the USA is having such success in rehabilitation that only 7% of teenagers are re-offending, which is a very low statistic in comparison with the average 40-50%. Rather than be stuck in a jail-like environment, it’s structured differently. The centre holds around 30 kids who wear their own clothes, not a prison uniform. They go to school each day with around 10 to 15 kids per class. They eat together, play sport and do art together. They attend counseling and rehabilitation sessions. The workers there do not wear guard uniforms. Overall, a safe and caring environment is provided. In other words, the kids are given love, trust, and friendship – something they may have never had on the outside. They are also encouraged to learn life skills so they have job options to go to on the outside. This program is seeing the kids make smooth transitions to the outside world.

There is a similar concept in Alice Springs called “Bush Mob”. It is also a small-sized centre for wayward teenagers with a 20-bed residential treatment facility. Their motto is to create safety and support for young people aged between 12 and 25 years and they run such programs as Bush Adventure Therapy and working with horses. They have caring caseworkers and attend schooling and counseling sessions. They also build self-esteem by receiving training in computers, music, arts and filmmaking.

After the footage of the Don Dale Centre was released, the Australian government held a Royal Commission into child protection in detention. This means we are hopefully going to head in the right direction.

As a young person myself I know that we are your future and so you need to look after us. The government needs to close down the large, out-dated, jail-like correctional centres and build smaller, more nurturing environments where these damaged kids can be shown the right path. While building these centres would cost the government money it would also save millions of dollars in terms of cutting court costs and reducing the need for judicial intervention, because the aim of the program is to stop kids re-entering the system, stopping them from reoffending.

Giving these kids a nurturing environment where they feel like they matter will help make them trust adults again and give them a chance to get back into the community with new life skills. If they’re shown the right path, they’ll be better able to make the correct choices.


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