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NSW government to use IT for education, social interaction and music in youth detention

Joseph Guenzler -

NSW Minister for Youth Justice Jihad Dib has confirmed plans to equip youth detainees with computer tablets by the end of the financial year.

Digital technology is poised to enhance education, enable social connections, and contribute to the mental well-being of those in detention.

The initiative will also facilitate communication with families, loved ones, and Elders through controlled device access.

It will also serve as a conduit for online counseling with external specialists and the use of individually selected educational programs involving art and music.

Community Justice Coalition President, John Dowd AO KC, noted this week that overseas research found a 60 per cent reduction of violence against detention centre staff after providing tablets, and recently published research for adult NSW prisoners shows the same trend.

"Instead of being isolated in their cells most of the time, they will now have access to family, music, education, and other services," he said.

Australia's current national re-offending rate rests at 85 per cent, and 88 per cent among Indigenous people.

The proposed introduction of the devices, it is hoped, will help preserve cultural and familial bonds and make recidivism less likely.

Community Justice Coalition (CJC) Vice President, Elizabeth Evatt AC, said the initiative will improve the level of trust and continuity of service.

"Youth Justice said they have 42 psychologists for the 212 detainees, offering one hour a week," she said.

"However these psychologists are seen by the detainees as having a conflict of interest – they are engaged by management in decisions and yet need openness from detainees for counselling.

"By providing access to culturally appropriate external counsellors, via the tablets in the cells, a greater level of trust could be created as well as continuity of service after release"

The CJC outlined the costs associated with the proposal. For a 600-capacity prison, the installation of a server with security software is estimated at $230,000, accompanied by an annual maintenance expense of $120,000.

Facilitating unlimited video and audio calls would incur a nominal monthly charge of $1 per prisoner.

It is important to note that for youth detention centres with smaller populations, the associated costs would be proportionally reduced.

In Victoria, the average annual cost per young person in detention stands at $1.8 million. Reducing re-offending, advocates note, means an overall significant decrease to costs to the community.

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