The Palaszczuk Government is offering the crime-weary city a new antidote to its woes – take young offenders at risk of cycling through the justice system and put them on farms where they can learn about planting crops, looking after animals and operating machinery.
Government officials and representatives from TAFE are about to find out if a good dose of sunshine, fresh air and an honest day’s toil is just what young people need to stop them falling into the crime trap.
The program works on evidence that reducing the risk factors linked to youth offending, such as disengagement from education, training, and employment, while improving social skills and behaviours, will make a difference.
The city of Townsville, which has been besieged by waves of youth crime for years, will be sweating on the results.
The initial cohort of the Transition to Success (T2S) program under TAFE’s guidance is small, involving 10 vulnerable young people over the past six weeks in a curriculum of farm-hand skills learned on-the-job within the environment of real-word agricultural enterprises.
The track record of the program has so far yielded positive results.
In other sectors such as construction, landscaping, engineering, hospitality, and business, 76 full accredited certificates have been achieved by young people through the Townsville T2S program since it began in 2016.
A state-wide evaluation of the program in 2018 found more than two-thirds of graduates did not offend within 12 months of completion.
T2S currently operates in 20 locations throughout Queensland, with hundreds of young people achieving qualifications, according to Youth Justice Minister Leanne Linard.
“Young people in T2S have often experienced difficulty with mainstream education, so this course represents a big step forward for them and gives them the entry-level skills they need to be a farm labourer,” she said.
“This has meant learning how to safely operate tractors, front-end loaders and other machinery, how to safely use chemicals to manage pest and weeds, and how to revegetate land.
“And importantly, the skills can be used in a range of industries, whether it be agriculture, horticulture, or land management, meaning they can apply them anywhere from a rural property to city gardens or national parks.
“Many young people who come through T2S love working with their hands, so it’s fantastic to see them have a solid foundation they can now build upon.”
Member for Townsville Scott Stewart said programs like T2S were important in helping kids turn their lives around.
“Programs like this are about breaking the cycle of youth crime and giving young people the skills, they need to improve their prospects,” he said.
Member for Thuringowa Aaron Harper said T2S and the new course were about giving young offenders a stronger foundation for them to get back into school, further training, or a job.
“Intervention is a key part of stopping people reoffending and the T2S program has a proven record of helping do this,” he said.
Member for Mundingburra Les Walker said having partnerships between TAFE and T2S was important.
“This is about everyone working together to try and change the lives of these young people,” he said.
The rural operations course has been funded by the Queensland Government’s Job Trainer Fund, which supports job seekers, school leavers and young people to access skills and training.
In the lead up to the course, the group of young people also engaged in equine therapy and received cultural mentoring from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders.
Linard said the Palaszczuk Government would hold young offenders to account , backed by what she described as the toughest youth justice laws in the country.
“Community safety is paramount which is why these news laws are so important,” Linard said.
“The introduction of a presumption against bail for serious repeat offenders is a key part of the changes which were brought in by the government.
“The changes mean more young offenders have been remanded in detention.”
“We must also give young people the chance to stay out of trouble and out of the youth justice system.”
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