A cautioning program aimed at diverting young Aboriginal people from the criminal justice system will be expanded to Ballarat.
Police say a trial in Bendigo, Echuca and Greater Dandenong beginning in 2019 has resulted in a significant increase in the number of Aboriginal young people being diverted from the court system and linked in with support services.
It has been deemed a success and after consultation with the Aboriginal community it will be rolled out to 11 additional areas, including Ballarat.
Aboriginal young people issued with a caution can opt to participate in an Aboriginal Youth Caution Program and appear before a panel of community leads to discuss what support they require.
So far, results have included increased school attendance and engagement in Aboriginal cultural activities and events, such as with police at the Massive Murray Paddle.
Chief Commissioner, Shane Patton, said young Aboriginal people were disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system but police could work to address the issue.
"A criminal record can seriously impact a young person for the rest of their life. That's why we want to issue cautions, not charges, where appropriate to help them get back on track," he said.
We know diverting young people away from the courts reduces the likelihood they'll commit crime in the future. It's not just in their interest, it's in the community's interest.Shane Patton
"We know diverting young people away from the courts reduces the likelihood they'll commit crime in the future. It's not just in their interest, it's in the community's interest."
It coincides with a change in policy, allowing police more opportunities to issue cautions to young people where appropriate.
A young person can be issued a caution with consent, even if they do not admit to the offence or if they provide a "no comment" interview. Having a prior criminal history does not exclude eligibility.
Chief Commissioner Patton stressed it was not about "going soft on crime".
"Our priority will always be to ensure community safety and we will continue to hold offenders who commit serious crimes to account."
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