I’m four years into my law and criminology degrees and I’ll be honest, I still don’t really know where I want to go. My university has a unit that allows you to do an elective placement that counts as a subject, so I arranged a meeting with my local Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Community Services office. After reading a lot of paperwork (mostly common sense), and signing a small plantation’s worth of paper, I started my 120-hour placement.
On my first day, I received a set of keys (responsibility!) and one of those fancy emails that ends with .gov.au. I also learned about the supply of tea and coffee in the kitchen and the extensive stationery room (which I would later rearrange and organise, much to the delight of my colleagues).
The first few days of my placement were spent doing many of the induction modules which are undertaken by ‘real’ employees. The relationship between the theory of my criminology degree and the practice of DJJ was evident immediately, with fun words like ‘dynamic criminogenic risk factors’ and Young Offenders Act jumping out at me.
One of the highlights of my placement (aside from the glorious stationery room) was being able to visit my local juvenile justice centre. This is an all-boys centre, but sometimes is used as a transitional centre for female detainees. I was given a tour of the centre, and noticed centre workers randomly choosing boys to be given a ‘wand over’ to ensure they didn’t have anything prohibited on them. I saw the visiting rooms, staff areas and the different residential units. Each unit was unique and had a different colour scheme, which applied to décor and the boys’ uniform. My favourite part of the tour was visiting the dog kennels. So that my placement officially counted towards my degree, I had to write a 5,000-word paper. The kennels inspired me to write my research essay on animal programs in criminal rehabilitation.
My tour-giver told me that the boys had made the dog kennels and a nearby pizza oven, and had painted several big murals. It really hit home that these boys all have talent. One mural was signed ‘the [centre] boys’. To me, this conveyed a sense of camaraderie and belonging, something which many of the boys would not have experienced on ‘the outside’. My tour-giver told me that it’s hard to prepare boys to go back into the real world when custody is the best opportunity they’ve been given in life, as they get guaranteed daily meals, education, discipline and support.
I also participated in various agency programs in the community, including one called Drum Beat. Essentially, the program uses music, in the form of djembes (large drums) to relate to that session’s particular topic. For example, one week’s theme was ‘harmony’. We had the young people play their own rhythms on the drums and noted how out of sync everything sounded. Then, we all played the same beat and sounded harmonious. We had a discussion about how this is a metaphor for life, and how the bass note is like a familiar home, holding us all together despite our differences.
Throughout my placement, I met young people, drafted mock reports, read client files and learned a lot about the Department of Juvenile Justice. It was an excellent experience to see into a government department, and to see a side of the law that doesn’t focus on defence or prosecution, but instead advocates for the young person while also balancing community interests. Most importantly, I saw how the theory that I’d learnt in my degrees doesn’t always play out in practice.
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