#YoungNewYorkers: Young offenders sentenced to art classes in New York, thanks to Australian woman's idea

The Honorable Judge Hudson with Rachel Barnard at a young offenders' exhibition.

The Honorable Judge Hudson with Rachel Barnard at a young offenders' exhibition.

Young New Yorkers, a not-for-profit public art project, is the brainchild of south-east Queensland woman and former architect Rachel Barnard.

"Young New Yorkers offers diversion programs to 16 and 17-year-olds who are being tried as adults in the criminal justice system in New York State," she said during a recent visit to Queensland's Sunshine Coast.

"On completion of the diversion program, participants usually have their criminal record dismissed and sealed, so they don't incur a lifelong criminal record.

"I know it sounds cliche but I just fell in love and I think I found quite by accident my life's work."

Judges in New York State have embraced the diversionary program as a sentencing option since 2012.

Ms Barnard said a youth may be sentenced to either the one-day or eight-week program for what's considered "entry level" offences such as fare evasion, graffiti or low-level assault.

Youths considered adults

New York is one of two states in America in which 16 and 17-year-olds are considered adults under the criminal justice system.

In Australia, Queensland is the only state in which a 17-year-old is treated as an adult in the criminal justice system.

The Youth Advocacy Centre (YAC) has been lobbying the Queensland Government to have that changed.

But in the meantime, Brisbane-based barrister and YAC chair Damien Atkinson said because courts had the power to sentence an offender to diversionary programs instead of jail, there was definitely a place for a Young New Yorker-type program in Queensland.

"There'd be lots of young people who rejoice in creativity and when they learn the positive relationships and the skills that they do through Rachel's programs, that will see them hopefully go onto bigger and better things and take them away from offending," he said.

"The more programs and options we have for young people the better chance we have of making sure that they don't enter the adult criminal system."

Mr Atkinson said the challenge of bringing such a program to fruition in Queensland would be engaging the right artists, funding partners and then convincing the government that it would be a viable sentencing option.

"We would also want to work closely with the Murri community because so many of their people are affected, both here [in south-east Queensland] and up north," he said.

Sunshine Coast-based Aboriginal artist Jandamarra Cadd agreed.

Mr Cadd recently spoke out about his own experience after the ABC aired child abuse allegations in a Northern Territory detention centre.

The multi-award winning artist and Archibald Prize finalist said he turned to art after time spent in juvenile detention.

"Art gave me a voice I felt I didn't have before," he said.

For the full article on ABC Sunshine Coast, click here.