In March 2020, the Queensland Government announced a pilot of the On Country program. The program focuses on young people who are:
- Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander
- aged 10 to 17 years old
- repeat offenders with high and complex needs.
The pilot sites are:
- Mount Isa
The announcement came after petitions and proposals from communities across North Queensland for On Country services. The government committed about $5.6 million over 4 years to pilot the program.
International and domestic literature suggests that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander designed and led justice programs consistently outperform those that are externally developed.
The program aims to:
- reduce rates of offending and reoffending
- strengthen young people's cultural and spiritual connections to land, sea and sky through the active efforts and participation of local community leaders, Elders and Traditional Owners
- strengthen family relationships and connections with the community while promoting positive self-identity
- re-engage young people with education, training and employment
- refer young people and families to other support services in the local community.
The local pilots are designed and delivered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community controlled organisations. They offer an immersive On Country experience and intensive case work support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
On Country is available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people. The length of the response is dependent on need and may include:
- On Country camps
- cultural activities.
Referrals are made by:
- Youth Justice officers
- Queensland Police Service
- young people's families.
Contracts to deliver the pilot program were awarded after an open tender process. The program will be delivered by:
- Cairns – Jabalbina Yalanji Aboriginal Corporation
- Mount Isa – Mona Aboriginal Corporation
- Townsville - Gr8Motive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Corporation.
The On Country program will be evaluated in 2022–23. The evaluation will look at whether strong cultural connections help reduce reoffending.