Learning globally for better outcomes for young people

This is a guest blog by Matt Dwyer who recently was awarded a 2020 Churchill Fellowship to document the architectural design of a new youth custodial model.

I’m very excited for the opportunity of a Churchill Fellowship, in which I’ll study the design of small-scale youth custody facilities in New York City, Missouri, New Zealand and England. 

These jurisdictions share similarities with our own, yet they offer some examples of small-scale and community integrated custodial facilities that we can learn much from in Australia. 

With my research partner and Local Time co-designer, Dr Sanne Oostermeijer, I’ve previously studied custodial designs in the Netherlands, Spain and Norway, and I’ll be looking to compare those approaches with these further jurisdictions.

There is a strong evidence base which informs how youth justice facilities should be designed to improve the outcomes and wellbeing of young people in custody, improve the working conditions of Youth Justice staff, and improve public safety through reducing the risk of reoffending. 

Small and community integrated models for youth custody provide opportunities to build and strengthen existing social supports, giving the best chance of avoiding reoffending. These facilities are safer for both young people and staff, and provide an environment where the strengths of young people can be encouraged and developed, while risks can be addressed in a lasting way. They also dramatically improve the working conditions of Youth Justice staff.

It is also important that small-scale facilities provide a model for reducing the overall size of the custodial system. As we invest in preventative approaches and reduce the number of children entering custody, the physical infrastructure must be downsized to reflect this reduction. New York City offers an example of this in its Close to Home project, which I hope to study in detail.

Ultimately, the design of a custodial facility is about encouraging and supporting good relationships between people – between staff and young people inside, and young people and their communities outside. By keeping young people close to home and connected with those people who offer them support and healing, the design of a facility can offer real help. I look forward to learning exactly how this is realised.

Matt Dwyer

Sanne and Matt at the launch of their Local Time design guide for Victoria earlier this year.

Learn more about Local Time and the Design Guide which outlines a scheme for a new architectural model for youth justice facilities in Victoria here.

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