Lawyers for Dylan Voller, whose treatment in youth detention prompted the Northern Territory royal commission, will ask the Supreme Court to release him early into a rehabilitation program.
Now 19, Voller is not due to finish his prison sentence for aggravated robbery until October.
But on Wednesday, his lawyers will ask the court to send him to BushMob, in Alice Springs, which is the last remaining residential youth offender diversion program funded by the NT government following a series of cuts over the past decade.
Established 18 years ago, BushMob now has 20 beds in a town rehabilitation facility, and a bush camp 100 kilometres from Alice Springs.
Referrals come from families, courts and government departments.
“The young people are coming in with massively complex issues. Neglect, abuse, some of them have been in welfare since birth, others have had interactions with drugs and alcohol and the criminal justice system,” BushMob’s chief executive Will MacGregor said.
He said BushMob could assist Voller.
“We try to be open to any young person, as long as we assess that they actually have the capacity to do our programs and abide by our rules, which were made by young people,” Mr MacGregor said.
BushMob’s effectiveness was formally evaluated in a 2009 Deakin University study, which found it “cost effective” and that it “compares favourably with any clinical health intervention”.
At its remote camp, young people learn horsemanship skills, fencing, and do cultural activities with Indigenous elders. In town they attend school and sport in the community.
Mr MacGregor does his own assessments during discussions with young people.
“Is it OK to steal cars? Is it OK to break into someone’s house? On a scale: sometimes, yes, never, no. We can actually graph that, so we can see over the three months, an improvement on a graph,” he said.
“And the young person can see that, and realise: ‘When I first came, I didn’t care. Now I do care, because if someone took my iPhone, I’d be angry. I can understand how that victim might feel’.”
Rehabilitation is a slow process
But it is not a quick fix.
“A young person might come to us at 12 years old, come back at 15, and then come back at 18,” Mr MacGregor said.
Some of the young people now in BushMob say their experiences in Alice Springs youth detention, under the new Labor government, made them more angry at society.
“There was too much stress in there. The guards were swearing at young people. The guards were making fun of the kids, teasing them, making them angry. It’s like a mad house,” 17-year-old Geoffrey said.
The NT Families Department has been asked to respond to that.
BushMob has helped Geoffrey refocus.
“I came here to give up drinking and smoking. They help you, like get a job, and get your licence, make you get back on the right road.”
Dixon, 16, now plans to return to school.
“Just [to] find a job in construction, that’s my goal. So I can just have a good life when I get older, have a good future,” he said.
It costs $350 a day per young person at BushMob, compared to on average $677 for youth detention.
But all of BushMob’s places are not being used because it has not received enough government referrals.
Mr MacGregor is waiting to find out whether BushMob will be continue to be funded in the NT Labor government’s first budget.
“What we find is that with the short-term consumerist political cycle that we have in this country, is that there’s a failure to have intergenerational long-term planning around working with young people in need,” he said.
NT Territory Families Minister Dale Wakefield is still considering which programs to fund, but is promising longer term funding.
“Some kids do extremely well in that type of wilderness setting, they work extremely well going and working on a stock camp. Other kids so really well working in a motorbike shop,” he said.
“I’ve inherited a youth justice budget that is $24 million; $2 million of that is spent on diversion, the rest is spent on the really pointy end, which we know is not working.
“We need to turn that ratio around, that is going to take some time and some work.”