For Amanda Dodds, her job is more than a title. She often spends gruellingly long hours in courtrooms and interviews to support young Indigenous people caught up in the system.
Amanda is one of many cell support volunteers who answer calls from the NSW Police at all hours of the night. They make the journey to the relevant police station to comfort Aboriginal juveniles or adults who are not able to read or write.
“We come in and we sit down with the young person. We don’t say anything, we don’t give them any legal advice or anything like that. We’re just there while the police go through their process and to make sure the young person gets a fair go,” Amanda says. Normally, Amanda is an employee of the NSW Attorney-General’s Department in the Aboriginal Programme Unit (Crime Prevention) in the Lismore area.
Her main role is to create youth activities to help reduce the crime rate within the community. “There are about 30 community members and we get together once a month to examine crime rate and behaviours of our mobs in the communities. Then we come up with activities and programs to reduce that,” she says. Amanda is constantly applying for grants to help initiate and support these kinds of programs. “I apply for funding from everywhere and everyone. If I find a grant, I’ll get it, I’ll try, I’ll go hard for it,” she says. Amanda recently received a grant of $15,000 and used it to successfully set up and run an eight-week program for Aboriginal youth in the Lismore area. The area’s statistics show there was a dramatic decrease in the level of juvenile crime on the days the program was held.
“We started off with a youth program on Friday nights. We started it off with $15,000. We ran it for eight weeks and grabbed all the kids who had come under the attention of the justice system or the police,” Amanda says. “We had those kids from 4pm to midnight, and we did workshops with them, sporting activities, fed them… kept them all in that one spot.” Because of the success of the program, the group teamed up with the local PCYC and received another larger grant. “We ended up getting into a partnership with the PCYC and we ended up getting $75,000, which funds the program for about four times a year,” Amanda says. “We’re getting really close to finishing that program now, and it’s been run about three times.” In the future, Amanda would like to see bootcamp-style camps with a strong focus on Aboriginal culture. “A lot of these young fellas have lost their identity. They don’t know who they are because of this Western world,” Amanda says. “I think they’re committing crimes because they don’t know who they are or where they come from.” Beyond this and cell support, Amanda offers her presence in the courtroom to Indigenous youth who may not have anyone else by their side during tough times in the justice system. “I guess it gives them a face in the courtroom, a voice when they’re trying to implement stuff and it empowers them as well to know that we’re here and we’re here to help,” Amanda says. After completing Year 12, Amanda was accepted into a university law degree. While studying, she had some experiences of her own that led her to want to work with Indigenous youth. “I’ve had a passion for young Aboriginal people in the system since I was young. I finished Year 12 and did 18 months of a law degree, then a few personal things happened with drugs, so I left that and ended up doing a Police course in Queensland,” Amanda says. “I thought I was going to get into the Police force that way, but I actually fell pregnant with my first baby. They gave me 18 months off, but every time I went back I fell pregnant. So I ditched that idea.” It was then that she made the move to New South Wales and got the job at the Attorney-General’s office. “I came to New South Wales
and it was a bit of a coincidence, I guess. I applied for the Justice Group job and I got it. I’ve just always had a passion, it’s my drive,” Amanda says. “It keeps me away from my kids, and when I’m not with my kids these other people’s kids are my drive.”