February 06, 2017 |
The peak body for community lawyers in Victoria is deeply concerned by the Victorian Government decision, announced today, to move youth justice from the Department of Health and Human Services into Corrections Victoria – the department that manages adult prisons.
The Victorian Federation of Community Legal Centres joins leading human rights and social welfare bodies in raising deep concerns about the move.
“There are good reasons why children are treated differently to adults in the justice system. It is well understood that child and adolescent brain development affects the way young people think and act. We also know that, when given access to proper rehabilitation, children have a very good chance of moving in a new direction,” said Federation Executive Officer, Serina McDuff.
Ms McDuff said that the decision to move youth justice into the department that manages adult prisons risks causing long term damage to children and undermining community safety.
To find meaningful pathways out of the system, children need access to education, skills training, counselling and other support, said Ms McDuff.
“These are often very vulnerable children from highly disadvantaged backgrounds. We know that when they can access support and opportunities, they make better choices.”
Ms McDuff criticised the short sightedness of the government’s response. She noted that, following recent exposure of severe mistreatment of children in Northern Territory prisons, governments, legal bodies and welfare agencies around Australia are working to improve youth justice.
“Just as governments around Australia are finally developing smarter, better pathways to rehabilitation, the Victorian Government is taking an astounding leap backwards. Victoria has previously led the way and is now at risk of going against the evidence of what works.”
Ms McDuff highlighted critical staff shortages in existing youth justice facilities. “At times we’ve got children being locked down for up to 23 hours a day simply because there aren’t enough staff members on duty. The government needs to address these core issues alongside infrastructure upgrades.”
“This is a lose-lose situation. It risks trapping vulnerable children in an ineffective system, as well as jeopardising community safety. There is no evidence this move will address the current issues. The Victorian Government should be improving our youth justice system and building on effective responses, such as diversion initiatives, access to education and smaller institutional settings.”
For media comment
0451 411 479