Member for Katherine, Sandra Nelson, has condemned criticism following a recent break-in spree and hit back at those who have questioned her leadership.
In an open letter sent on Sunday afternoon, Ms Nelson singled out residents calling for harsher penalties to deal with youth crime, saying a strict punitive approach has proven to be ineffective.
'Crime is committed for various, diverse reasons, and in general the majority of crime we see and experience being committed in Katherine are consequences and outcomes of much broader social issues," she said.
"I am unequivocally committed to my government's approach in addressing the inequities in our communities and the over representation of Indigenous people in our jails."
The letter comes just days after four local businesses were vandalised on Katherine's main street, sending social media into a frenzy and prompting many to question the member's whereabouts.
"I'm often criticised by people in my own community for being soft, having my head buried in the sand, insipid, a failure, incompetent, lame duck - you name it, I've been called it - in regards to crime, particularly crime committed by youth," she said.
"Contrary to what some people claim about my attitude and response to crime - I don't believe nor have I ever said that there shouldn't be any consequences for anyone that commits a crime."
To effect long term change requires a more targeted approach of early intervention and support. This is about generational change and that is not going to happen overnight.Member for Katherine, Sandra Nelson
In March, Ms Nelson announced she would not be running in the next election, following a series of personal Facebook messages, exposing her thoughts on the Gunner Government's handling of the economic crisis, were leaked to the media.
Despite this, she is setting the record straight on youth crime.
The letter in full
So many of us lose hope from time to time. When we're pushing towards a goal and we hit a brick wall, we tend to lose sight of the bigger picture and seemingly lose all hope. And as adults, educators, parents, elected members, community leaders - if we lose all hope, what of the kids? What are we saying to the kids?
I'm often criticised by people in my own community for being soft, having my head buried in the sand, insipid, a failure, incompetent, lame duck - you name it, I've been called it - in regards to crime, particularly crime committed by youth. Contrary to what some people claim about my attitude and response to crime - I don't believe nor have I ever said that there shouldn't be any consequences for anyone that commits a crime.
Each and every time a business is broken into or some other form of crime is committed in my community - the blame rhetoric is dished out, "where is the local Member? Why isn't she doing her job? She doesn't care". I must say, it's the "she doesn't care" part that really gets to me.
I care enough to often drive around town at night several times a week to see what's happening, I stop and talk to the kids that are out late in the night 'what are you up to tonight? You doing ok? How's school? How's the family?'. I care enough to personally visit victims of crime after the incident when I'm aware of who the victim is. I care enough to drive past, after hours, businesses that have been previously targeted and take a look around to make sure there's nothing amiss.
I spend time at the schools in my community, I engage with the teachers, the students, the caseworkers. I follow up with the police on a regular basis about businesses that have been damaged and broken into. I facilitate meetings and provision of support to business owners by government agencies and police, I make sure that they have access to information and resources to assist them in securing their business. I lobby my government for additional resources and funding for things that my community has asked for - things such as additional police members, more cctv, public housing safety officers, youth outreach workers.
And there are some people in my community who demand that there be harsher penalties, a strict punitive approach to dealing with youth that commit crime. The facts are that sentencing laws haven't changed in our term of government. The same sentencing laws and penalties that were in place during the previous governments "tough on crime" approach exist today.
I've seen and read the comments on social media, the posts and photos of angry owners of the businesses that were recently broken into in Katherine, I've read the articles written by the local newspaper about the crime in Katherine, and the subsequent comments that those sorts of articles encourage and incite. And you know what? Victims of those crimes have every right to be angry. I know people are frustrated and angry and scared. I'm angry and frustrated also. I know that in the heat of the moment, out of anger and frustration people will say and do things they they would normally not say or do. I know that when people are angry and scared they want immediate retribution. I also acknowledge that it's a huge ask of victims of crime to allow for programs to take effect, but we are starting to see results.
I have also spent enough time with some of the youth that have committed crimes to know that committing that crime was their act of desperation, and an act borne of anger, resentment, hate and despair.
I have survived a lot of traumatic events throughout my life, I have survived domestic violence, I have been poor, breakdown of a 17 year marriage, the anguish and trauma of my first sons death, and I have been a single parent. I understand anger, resentment, despair, but I don't understand why some people react or respond to those feelings by committing crime. I can't imagine having such a trauma filled life that people see a life of crime as the only way out.
Each criminal act that is committed warrants a unique response appropriate to that act. A strict punitive approach to crime cannot be the single response to addressing ALL crime.
Crime is committed for various, diverse reasons, and in general the majority of crime we see and experience being committed in Katherine are consequences and outcomes of much broader social issues such as Alcohol abuse, unemployment, poor literacy skills, poverty, dysfunctional households, drugs etc.. I am unequivocally committed to my governments approach in addressing the inequities in our communities and the over representation of indigenous people in our jails.
To effect long term change requires a more targeted approach of early intervention and support. This is about generational change and that is not going to happen overnight. This requires much more than just hiring more police officers or prosecutors or judges. We've seen time and time again, not just in Australia, but in other countries also that a strict punitive approach does not equate to better long term outcomes. Just like everyone else in my community, I'm often frustrated that it's a slow process, but we have to allow the process to continue.
This why I am passionate about Restorative Justice and Justice Reinvestment. This is why I am passionately supportive of programs such as the Back On Track program that we implemented this year. And this is also the reason why I am passionately supportive of our Katherine Flexible Learning Centre which is an extension of Katherine High School.
The Katherine Flexible Learning Centre (KFLEC) officially opened at the beginning of the 2018 school year. It started with a small number of students that had disengaged from education for many diverse, complex reasons, and for some students - they had disengaged because they had lost all hope. In general, when people disengage from school, work, social life, community, when they have connection to the people around them and the community they live in, when they feel that nobody cares - they are more prone to committing crime, harming others and themselves.
The purpose of a flexible learning centre is to empower young people to take personal responsibility for their actions and learning, feel enhanced wellbeing, and achieve greater autonomy and self-reliance, to engage in the transition to further education and/or employment and to negotiate positive steps to adulthood.
Teaching and learning is characterised by small class sizes, a flexible curriculum that draws on individual interest and needs and a democratic pedagogical approach that encourages learner empowerment and autonomy. The philosophy has a clear commitment to social justice and stands in solidarity with disenfranchised people of all social, cultural and religious backgrounds. Learning experiences are holistic and address the social and emotional needs of young people, promote wellbeing, and develop cognitive and academic skills.
The principles of Respect, Resilience, Participation and Honesty guide group relationships while at school and in the broader community. They represent broad directions for group practice and establish a common framework that promotes appropriate learning and personal relationships. They are used by the young people and staff to encourage learning, foster and build positive personal relationships, and to resolve conflict without violence.
We need more people like Mark Morrison, Kempsey school principal, people that understand we must be the catalyst, to be the difference, to encourage and promote inclusion in order for things to change. We cannot lose hope.
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