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Mental health is one of the core issues affecting Indigenous youth in custody. We tell how one passionate Indigenous NRL player is making a difference.

The number of Indigenous youth in custody has dropped by 25 per cent in NSW since 2015. NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOSCAR) data shows the number has fallen from 161 in 2015 to 121 in 2019. However, the rates are consistently higher than those for non-Indigenous teens.

“At the moment, we’ve been down on numbers, and that’s a good thing,” says Craig Derwin, Assistant Manager at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre at Kariong, near Gosford, on the Central Coast. “We’re around the 60 mark right now. Normally we have 120. Some of them have been in the system a long time, they come with mental health issues, drug issues, trauma, a lot of different things.”

Young Indigenous Australians make up 2.9 per cent of the population aged 10-17, BOSCAR reports, but 52 per cent of the state’s juvenile detainees. There are three types of crime through which they typically enter the justice system: violent offending and reoffending, breaching justice orders, and driving offences. Lifestyle factors play a significant role, because these crimes are often accompanied by social and economic disadvantage, poor health, low levels of education, unemployment, and cultural clashes.

On top of that, the reoffending rate is 57.5 per cent – about 1.4 times higher than non-Aboriginal youth.

Derwin has worked with the NSW Department of Communities and Justice for 33 years, spending 21 of those at Frank Baxter. He says the biggest changes he’s seen over the course of his career are a spike in drug use, followed by an increase in the severity and frequency of mental health conditions.

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