Aussie woman’s novel New York youth sentencing program a hit

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An Australian’s diversionary sentencing program for youth offenders has been such a hit in the US state of New York that the establishment of a similar program in Queensland will also be a boon according to a barrister and an Aboriginal artist.
ABC reported that judges in New York have been keen to utilise Rachel Barnard’s diversionary sentencing program, which sees youths sentenced to art workshops as an alternative to prison, since 2012.
The program is administered through Barnard’s Young New Yorkers non-profit public art project which has one-day and eight-week programs which youths with “entry level” offences such as fare evasion, graffiti and low-level assault can be sentenced to participate in.
The idea is not only gaining support in the US, it’s also gaining support in Queensland, the state Barnard hails from.
“Art gave me a voice I felt I didn't have before,” renowned Aboriginal artist Jandamarra Cadd told ABC.
“A program like this would be powerful medicine that I feel would have such positive, rippling effects beyond simply this generation.”
Another supporter of the idea is Damien Atkinson, chair of the Youth Advocacy Centre which has been lobbying the Queensland Government to change the policy of trying 17-year-olds as adults in court.
“There'd be lots of young people who rejoice in creativity and when they learn the positive relationships and the skills that they do through Rachel's programs, that will see them hopefully go onto bigger and better things and take them away from offending,” Atkinson said.
Queensland is the only state in Australia where 16- and 17-year-olds can be tried as adults. There are only two in the US that have the same policy, including New York where the Young New Yorkers program is gaining momentum.
“The more programs and options we have for young people the better chance we have of making sure that they don't enter the adult criminal system,” said Atkinson.
Under the program, offenders “usually have their criminal record dismissed and sealed, so they don’t incur a lifelong criminal record,” said Barnard.
The former architect also told ABC that making a popular alternative sentencing program in the US was not intentional.
“I know it sounds cliché but I just fell in love and I think I found quite by accident my life's work,” she said.

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