Left to right: Jacob Saunders, Robbie Ryan and Shane Phillips / Photo: Edwin Monk

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There was a time when, if you mentioned the word ‘Redfern’, the connotations weren’t positive.

But while it still has its share of problems, the neighbourhood once largely associated with crime, drunkenness and despair has enjoyed a dramatic turnaround in recent years, thanks to a range of government and community initiatives.

Redfern’s ‘Clean Slate Without Prejudice’ program is one of the best examples of this vital community work, which is helping turn Sydney’s onetime social basket case into an urban success story.

Redfern Police Commander, Superintendent Luke Freudenstein, credits the boxing and fitness program with an 80 per cent reduction in juvenile crime since it began in 2009.

“The idea behind it is pretty much what it says,” explains community leader Shane Phillips, who established the program with Supt Freudenstein.

“We give kids and young adults who’ve done time in jail a clean slate and help get them back in the workforce, and contributing to society,” says Mr Phillips, who was recently named Australia’s Local Hero for 2013.

Mr Phillips, the CEO of the Tribal Warrior Association, says this is achieved by instilling discipline and routine.

“Physical training and discipline is the cornerstone, and each day on the program begins with training at 6am,” he says.

“That hard physical work and the early starts set people up for entering the work-force, because if they can stick to that they can definitely stick to a regular job.”

But the program, which has helped more than 70 people achieve a fresh start, is now under threat.

One-off federal funds have run out and approaches to the O’Farrell Government have so far been rebuffed.

“We’re hoping to receive more government funding because without it, closure of the program is imminent,” says Mr Phillips.

“We case studied 12 kids who were committing offences weekly and we saw those 12 kids no longer offend … We estimate it’s saved the government over $8 million for one year.”

A Senate Committee Inquiry is currently looking at justice reinvestment and will report on the issue in the coming months.