Locking children up is not the answer
Criminologist Professor Ross Homel, AO, is challenging the whole crime and punishment equation, especially for young children. Getting in early, sometimes before children have even started school, he says, is the key to changing life outcomes, before criminal behaviour and antisocial activities become entrenched. His research has guided government policies and in turn has the potential to influence the lives of thousands of disadvantaged children.
He has been referred to as a ‘national treasure’ in the field of crime prevention. But Professor Ross Homel believes the real treasure will be uncovered in the futures of disadvantaged children who are given a better chance at life.
As a statistician and a criminologist he knows the numbers add up to a pretty bleak future for disadvantaged children if we accept the status quo. However, he isn’t one to accept poor outcomes. This finalist for the Australian of the Year title in 2009 is challenging the whole crime and punishment equation.
“I don’t think many people realise how many young people, when they are released from detention, die either through suicide or illness, or accidents, or have very poor outcomes if they stay alive,” he says
What Professor Homel is doing is providing longitudinal research into how early access to family support systems can affect child outcomes.
His work has already shaped national and state government policies and he was awarded an Order of Australia Medal (AO) in 2008 for ”service to education, particularly in the field of criminology, through research into the causes of crime, early intervention and prevention methods”.
He has questioned the effectiveness of the old ‘lock-‘em-up’ approach to juvenile crime and antisocial behaviour and put forward sound scientific-based methodology for change.
“That’s why I have been doing all this work for over the years. Long-term strategies for keeping kids out of these brutal and de-humanising and completely useless systems,” he said.
The former Commissioner for the Criminal Justice Commission is leading ground-breaking research, changing the focus from crime punishment to crime prevention.
Professor Homel’s community-based Pathways to Prevention program, conducted in partnership with Mission Australia and the Queensland government, has gathered information on about 5000 students, tracking their outcomes for more than a decade from seven schools in the Brisbane region.
The Pathways research has already won national crime prevention awards and international honours for Professor Homel.
Getting in early is the key, before criminal behaviour and antisocial activities become entrenched, sometimes before children have even started school.
One of the electronic tools developed by developmental psychologist Dr Kate Freiberg, a key member of the Pathways team, is a computer game, Rumble’s Quest. It provides teachers and support agencies with crucial information on the social and emotional wellbeing of children.
“If we leave it as is a few kids will survive and be very resilient regardless but a lot won’t, a lot will go under. We run the risk of more kids, particularly from Aboriginal communities ending up in the equivalent of the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre. Heaven help us.”
However, he remains confident the numbers from his ongoing research will add up to a better life for many children and a better society – and that’s what drives him.
For the story behind Prof Homel’s quest to shape a better future for children read: Ross Homel: Keeping children out of prison