Strong Connected Neighbourhoods Program a proactive way to cut crime

There isn't a city in Australia, or on Earth, that is without challenges.

But Canberra is faced with a need to act particularly fast to address some of its greatest issues, not the least of which is a growing population.

Strong Connected Neighbourhoods Program manager-on-the-ground Mark Ransome and senior project co-ordinator Rebecca Newson. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

Strong Connected Neighbourhoods Program manager-on-the-ground Mark Ransome and senior project co-ordinator Rebecca Newson. Picture: Dion Georgopoulos

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the ACT is growing at a rate about 25 per cent faster than the rest of Australia and gaining about 8700 residents a year.

More people can be great, particularly for the economy. But a myriad of problems are also associated with a growing population, including the strong possibility of an increase in crime.

As reported in recent weeks, the number of inmates in Canberra's only prison nearly doubled between 2008 and 2018. As the capital continues to grow, it is surely better to address the issues that lead people to commit crime, rather than simply locking them up once the damage to society is done.

Corrections and Justice Health Minister Shane Rattenbury takes this view, having announced a bold scheme earlier this year to redirect $14.5 million away from prison expansion and into community programs as part of an initiative dubbed "Building Communities, Not Prisons".

Today, we give readers an insight into Strong Connected Neighbourhoods - one of the programs the ACT government has given additional funding to as part of its plan to reduce crime and keep fewer people behind bars.

Rebecca Newson and Mark Ransome, two of the Reclink workers delivering the program, are accurately described by Mr Rattenbury as "community guardians".

The pair spend their days at public housing blocks, working with high-needs residents to help with anything from healthy eating and medical issues to help with job applications, technology and caring for pets.

Ms Newson's vigilance and quick response recently helped save the life of a man who had overdosed on drugs.

His is not the only life saved or bettered as part of the program, which was hailed by an independent report last year for helping reduce violent crime and property crime in the areas it operated by between 50 and 60 per cent.

"We've prevented three deaths this year to date," Mr Ransome said.

Programs like Strong Connected Neighbourhoods give socially isolated and disengaged people hope and a feeling that they can contribute. Without those things, a life of crime can be much more attractive.

It's hard to put a value on the likes of Ms Newson and Mr Ransome, who are a lifeline to some of Canberra's most at-risk residents.

But an approach that includes them is certainly more effective than putting an ambulance at the bottom of the cliff.