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Juvenile Detention Centre Changes Tune as Youth Find Their Voice


Pride, confidence and creativity. Not words you typically associate with young people in juvenile detention, but that’s changing thanks to Musica Viva.

A five-week Juvenile Justice Project funded by a Coca‑Cola Australia Foundation grant has helped to change the lives of four boys at Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice centre in Kariong, NSW, after they wrote and performed a song for fellow inmates.

“It’s one of the most profound things I’ve seen in my teaching career,” explained John Hibbard, Musica Viva’s National Manager for Teaching and Learning.

“When I first saw the boys they were hunched over, you could see they were in trouble, their sentences were short and they spoke softly,” John described.

“Within a session or two you could see them unfold.”

If you can’t say it, sing it

The workshops were led by former Aucklanders Josh and Ben Banton, whose songwriting and music production careers have been put to good use as educators.

According to Josh, the program aimed to help the boys learn and use new language to describe their hope for the future.

“What I tell the kids is you actually don’t know how powerful your story is in relation to someone else’s life when they’re going through things,” Josh said.

“Through their stories they’re hoping to change the lives of other young people,” added Ben.

New ways to express the future

Musica Viva is a national organisation charged with bringing live music into as many schools as possible, effectively reaching every corner of the country - even the most isolated regions.

Although the youth are confined to the close quarters of juvenile detention centres, physical and emotional isolation are a reality. Creating music is one way Musica Viva believes it can close the gap.

“They’re in a bad place so their language tends to be negative towards themselves and their society,” John said.

“We provide a non-threatening, highly supportive way for them to express themselves positively, new ways to express their future.”

Songwriting is a powerful vehicle for helping youth to change their thinking.

John pointed to the first four program participants’ growing confidence as evidence of music and new language’s power to change negativity into positivity.

“The music is a vehicle for all of these things to happen – a way in for warmth, personal pride and confidence,” he said.

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