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.

New research fellowship to address the school to prison pipeline in Victoria

Dr Sophie Rudolph

Our JYP network is thrilled to announce that our network co-convenor Dr Sophie Rudolph, Senior Lecturer, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne has  been awarded a three year DECRA research fellowship to explore school discipline and racialised exclusion:

Examining the social, historical and political effects of school discipline:

This project aims to examine the history and socio-political context of the school element of the ‘school-to-prison pipeline’ in Victoria through an examination of school discipline. This project expects to build vital knowledge of the relationship between school discipline and racialised school exclusion through historical accounts, policy analysis, interviews and focus group research.

Expected outcomes include new understanding of the social, historical and political effects of school discipline and new possibilities for strengthening school-community relations. This should provide significant benefits, such as improved opportunities for school participation, and enhanced local and international networks to address education equity.

As tweeted last night by our network co-convenor, Dr Diana Johns, Senior Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Melbourne, we congratulate Sophie for the fellowship award and look forward to following her important research over the next three years.

Learn more about Sophie’s research fellowship here and follow our blog for updates on her research.

Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth imprisonment

In October 2018, our Justice Involved Young people network co-hosted a forum called Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth… Voices for Justice, Stories for Change.

It showcased an important report by the Koorie Youth Council (KYC): Ngaga-dji (‘hear me’). The report  voices the stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in Victoria’s youth justice system and through a Call to Action, presents solutions for the injustices experienced.

For our network co-convenor, Dr Sophie Rudolph and Indi Clarke at the KYC, it was a starting point to think about what this report means for educators and how they might listen more deeply and strongly to the voices and the solutions put forward in the report.

Sophie’s recently published article Ngaga-dji, a call to action: education justice and youth imprisonment  grows out of the collaboration between our network with the KYC. Her article engages with the Ngaga-dji report to examine how educators and those involved in education might seek to change their practices.

Sophie speaking at the forum in 2018

The myth of the ‘child offender’ – a panel event for Social Sciences Week 2020 – watch the webinar below…

What does it mean to understand the ‘child offender’ as a ‘myth’? How do we – as social scientists, practitioners, researchers, teachers, law enforcers, students, a society – understand the criminalisation of children? Why are some children criminalised more than others? What happens when we criminalise children? And why are these questions important to ask, and to reflect on, for all of us?

This month, JYP-Network co-convenor Dr Diana Johns participated in a panel discussion with other members of the Australia & New Zealand Society of Criminology’s (ANZSOC) newly formed Thematic Group on Children and Young People in the Criminal Justice SystemDr Susie Baidawi (Monash University) and Robyn Oxley (University of Western Sydney). The event was hosted by Thematic Group convenors Dr Emma Colvin, Dr Shelley Turner and Dr Faith Gordon. For the 100+ people who attended the webinar, it was a rich opportunity to explore some of these issues, ask difficult questions, and challenge some of our deeply held and often taken-for-granted assumptions about ‘children’ as ‘offenders’.

Here, Diana briefly explains the concept of ‘myth’ and how it sets the scene for the discussion:

The concept of myth is, at first glance, a familiar one. We all know what ‘myths’ are – they are shared stories that have a function, which is usually to explain something about the world, how it is and how it came to be.

I’m using the concept of myth in a particular way, however, which draws on the ideas of French writer, thinker, essayist, Roland Barthes and his 1957 book, Mythologies. For Barthes, myth has specific meanings, qualities, dimensions and functions that give us a useful way to think about things we take for granted. From a Barthes-ian perspective, myth is a ‘system of communication’, ‘a message’, ‘a mode of signification’ – i.e. it is a form we use to convey meaning – BUT it distorts, it bends our perceptions in two important ways:

1) It removes history – “it transforms history into nature” (p.154) things lose the memory that they once were made” (p.169)

2) It appears as a statement of fact: “it establishes a blissful clarity: things appear to mean something by themselves.”

These aspects of how myth functions make it a useful conceptual tool (or lens)! If we think about the myth of the ‘child offender’ through this lens, we see that this seemingly simple and recognisable term tends to strip away and conceal all the complexity of children’s lives, all the history of how this term came to be and, indeed, its construction as a legal definition that has changed and continues to change across time and place. As we start to see, this simple and recognisable form – the ‘child offender’ or the ‘youth offender’ – becomes less a concrete ‘thing’ and more a kind of shorthand for a whole set of assumptions that we tend not to question in our day-to-day lives – whether we work with young people, research children in the justice system, or consume images and stories about ‘young offenders’ and ‘youth crime’ in the media.

Watch the recording above to follow the discussion… Hear Robyn talk about how colonisation still shapes the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, families and communities in Australia, and how historical practices relate to current forms of criminalisation. Listen to Susie explain the overlap between the youth justice system and the child protection system, how children with neurodisabilities can be criminalised when systems fail them, and how children make sense of their own experiences of criminalisation…

We explore recent examples of ‘the myth of the child offender’ – what it looks like in practice – and we consider concrete ways that we can start to challenge this myth, to deepen our understanding of the complexities it hides, to bring about better outcomes for children.

This will be and always is an ongoing conversation… join in!

P.S. If you only have 5 minutes, here’s a taster… (you can watch the rest later!)

What do we mean by myth?

P.P.S. To read more about Roland Barthes’ notion of myth, here are some links:

Andrew Robinson (2011) gives a good explanation of Barthes’ notion of myth here in a short article (part of a six-part series on Barthes) in Ceasefire Magazine.

This short (3 minute video) animation explains how Barthes helps us understand media myths and myth-making and ‘How to Read the Signs in the News’:

Watch our webinar on building culturally safer and relationally stronger schools

Capture webinar

On 26 August 2020 we co-hosted this webinar with the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.

Our panel reflected on the challenges and opportunities for building stronger and safer schools to support and value young people.

You can watch the webinar in the youtube link below:

Some of the issues and questions raised by attendees through the Q&A were:

  • The importance of properly listening to First Nations communities.
  • The possibilities and potential challenges of a system of mandatory reporting of racism in schools
  • Some of the challenges and possibilities for teacher education that is reflexive
  • How do we know when we’re doing good anti-racism and decolonial work?
  • How do we move beyond tokenistic understandings of diversity and address cultures of whiteness

Panellists left the audience with some challenges to continue to think about, including:

  • How do teachers hold strong in their humanity while confronting the ways we have been conditioned to see some things and not others?
  • How do we get away from binary and deficit understandings of difference and move towards ways of working that value difference?
  • How do we listen to students even when they tell us things we might not want to hear?
  • How do we deeply know and understand the structures of racism and the multiple effects of racism on young people?

Would you like to be involved in further work in this area? If yes, do you have ideas/suggestions about how you could be involved/where to take this work next?


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