Tim (not his real name) says programs like BushMob could help a lot of young people. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
There are fewer residential youth rehabilitation programs in the Northern Territory operating today than there were before the royal commission into the youth detention began a year ago, says last year’s NT Australian of the Year.
- BushMob in Alice Springs is the NT’s only residential youth rehabilitation centre
- Its CEO questions whether there’s an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality preferring to lock kids up rather than deal with the structural and social issues
- The NT Government says it has invested $18.2 million in youth diversion programs
The Territory Government has tripled funding for rehabilitation and diversion programs, but BushMob CEO Will MacGregor said the Government is preferring to “lock kids up” despite promises made to fix the system following the Don Dale youth detention abuse scandal.
Mr McGregor’s 20-bed facility in Alice Springs is the only government-funded residential youth rehabilitation centre in the NT, and teaches life skills and discipline to 12 to 25-year-olds recovering from drug or alcohol abuse.
It was where former Don Dale detainee Dylan Voller was sent following his release from prison.
Mr McGregor said that despite the Government’s public commitment to rehab and youth diversion over prison, no more residential facilities have been funded in the NT, and there had been no move to reinstate a Darwin-based youth rehabilitation program.
Mr MacGregor said he wanted to work positively with Territory Families — or any agency — to establish another residential rehabilitation facility in the Territory, but said the Government was uncooperative.
“We’ve seen young people that are now able to work, have returned to school, have reconnected with their family, not just here but in other places as well, what more could you do?” he said.
“We can actually achieve a lot in a short amount of time — the problem is there’s not enough of these types of programs.
“We live in a risk-averse society, and some people in a short-term political cycle would see it easier to lock kids up, ‘out of sight, out of mind’, rather than begin to deal with the structural and social issues that we have.”
‘Freedom’s all you’ve got in this world’
Johnny (not his real name) says he enjoys the program’s connection with Aboriginal culture. (ABC News: Claire Campbell)
Attending BushMob was the last chance for 17-year-old Johnny (not his real name).
He said he had unsuccessfully tried several diversion programs interstate after a stint in youth detention, but found BushMob’s engagement with Aboriginal culture and bush adventure therapy was working for him.
“When you come out here you’re connecting with more things, friends, meeting new people,” he said.
“You get more freedom than just stuck in a cell most of the day, let out at certain times, eat the same breakfast, doing the same thing every day.
“Freedom’s all you’ve got in this world, so if you’re locked up you’re not going to go anywhere in life.”
Since arriving at BushMob, Johnny said he had re-engaged with sport and education, undertaken drug and alcohol counselling, and got a job at a local supermarket.
‘I’ve seen the evil side of me and also the good side of me’
It is a similar story for 18-year-old Tim (not his real name), who said he quickly spiralled into a life of crime after trying methamphetamine a few years ago.
“Once I got locked up, I realised where that could take me; the court saw that I could change so they gave me a bail to BushMob,” he said.
“I’m on my last chance, pretty much.
“I’ve seen the evil side of me and I’ve also seen the good side of me, so I’m looking forward to going back to the old me again and hopefully life success.”
He said in the seven weeks he had spent at BushMob, the staff had helped him quit smoking, address his depression, look for a job, and set some life goals.
“For me, first time at rehab, first time at BushMob, and I’ve seen a lot of good things and a lot of good people,” he said.
“So yeah, I believe programs like this could change a lot of people.”
Government more interested in ‘shinier new prisons’: MacGregor
Mr MacGregor said despite residential diversion programs being significantly cheaper to run than youth detention, the Government appeared more interested in bigger, “shinier new prisons”.
He said BushMob in Alice Springs was only provided enough funding to run a 16-week residential program, despite evidence a 12-month program would improve outcomes for its clients.
He said his program often took clients for free because funding was not sufficient to cover their treatment.
“I don’t know what agenda this government has around youth issues, I know that there’s daytime stuff but there’s not much around residential healing, drug and alcohol treatment-type programs outside of prison,” Mr MacGregor said.
“It seems as though since the royal commission started, there’s less programs than there was when it started.”
YMCA’s NT youth programs in Katherine were forced to close this year due to mass staff resignations, but management told the ABC its remote youth diversion program and some other youth services started up again last month.
Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield said the Government was committed to youth diversion programs, and had invested $18.2 million since it came to power.
“We have to invest in young people to stop crime before it happens, and the best way to do that is to work collaboratively with our non-government sector to provide those services that keep kids in employment or education,” she said.
The final report on the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory — which is expected to include recommendations on youth diversion programs — will be handed to Federal Parliament on Friday.
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