As a community justice centre, the Neighbourhood Justice Centre is many things to many people, from community meeting place to court, and venue for treatment and case management services.
On any given day, a women’s group is meeting in the ground floor community room, court is in session one floor above, and on the top floor case managers are working with clients, and staff are at their desks in offices. In addition, a core cohort of clients who require greater levels of protection, namely victim-survivors of family violence and those seeking personal safety orders, will be with their lawyers or support service staff in the centre’s secure rooms.
The multi-use nature of the Centre—not to mention its community justice ethos—means we need a security system that monitors and responds to emotional distress and imbues the centre with a welcoming atmosphere, attributes that are particularly important for clients with histories of negative experiences with the justice system, for instance, members of the Aboriginal community, migrants from politically unstable countries, and the LGBTIQ+ community.
As such, we eschew intimidating x-ray security scanners, warning signs and ‘airport’ style body scans in favour of:
- Dynamic security
- Environmental design crime prevention.
The former is based on the principle that staff communications with clients can support their safety and emotional wellbeing, while the latter uses architectural and urban design to prevent and/or deescalate the behaviours that cause harm and conflict. Combined, these provide low-ley, almost invisible security functions that supports our therapeutic purposes.
Some 60 people work at the NJC, and all play a role in our version of dynamic security, a model that draws on the understanding that the positive communications between staff and clients supports safety, and positive outcomes.
By maintaining positive relationships with clients and frequent visitors, and being aware of what’s happening across the building, staff are the eyes and ears that monitor and manage the emotional and physical stress responses of our higher risk clients. It’s also remarkable what a difference a friendly smile from an otherwise anonymous member of staff can make to fostering greater trust in the justice system.
A team of four mature, trained, and hand-picked contracted security service personnel work alongside staff, and are also tasked with building positive relationships with clients and responding to risky behaviour in ways that are firm but supportive.
The team is active. At all times, one member is walking through and around the building, one monitors the court floor, and two staff the front desk. As a snapshot, the team:
- Provides concierge duties: welcome and guide visitors to the right floor/room
- Assist court registrars and support services (Client Services) to triage and manage clients who present a high security risk prior to, or upon arrival. This usually happens in family violence/intervention order matters
- Monitor Closed Circuit Television; maintain awareness of what is going on and communicate observations to staff.
- Escort clients to their car in high-risk situations.
Environmental design and security
The physical architecture of the NJC, an important feature of the security model, is based on the principles of “Crime Prevention through Environmental Design” (CPTED), a multi-disciplinary approach of crime prevention that uses urban and architectural design and the management of built and natural environments. Typically used across communities to reduce victimisation, deter criminal acts, and build a sense of community ownership among citizens, the principles transfer with ease to the NJC.
The Centre’s layout and internal fittings create an environment that discourages harmful behaviour, for example:
- Large windows, and open indoor spaces provide lines of sight and passive surveillance
- Staff and clients share the same public spaces, including stairwells and lifts.
In addition, sensory experiences alleviate stress-inducing triggers, which is particularly important for people experiencing high levels of stress while at court (for example, family violence victim-survivors) and those with past histories of trauma, anxiety or personality disorders and neurological conditions.
- Natural light and low noise levels reduce unwanted stimulation
- Vending machines do not sell high sugar foods
- No PA system which compels clients to speak to staff to get information
- Outdoor courtyards provide peace and reprieve.
In addition, our social enterprise kiosk provides healthy meals that have a positive affect the moods and well-being of clients,
the inclusion of the kiosk on the court floor takes the edge off an otherwise functional, clinical setting.
The Court Security Unit, CSV made a positive assessment of the security model that we attribute to why, despite having a high rate of medium-high risk clients, the Centre has very low rates of security incidents.