Exempting children and young people from long-awaited bail reforms is a decision with dangerous consequences

March 20, 2024 |

Attorney-General Jaclyn Symes has announced that the government will no longer be introducing much needed reforms to make bail laws fairer for children, reneging on former commitments.

Last year, on the advice of community service, human rights and legal organisations and Aboriginal community-controlled organisations, the Victorian Government had committed to removing the presumption against bail for children that currently makes it more difficult for children to obtain bail. However, rather than creating a system that is fairer and less traumatising for children by loosening Victoria’s strict bail laws, the Victorian Government has instead announced the introduction of a trial for electronic monitoring for children on bail.

The Federation of Community Legal Centres urges the government to reconsider its position.     

Children and young people who come into contact with the criminal legal system are overwhelmingly the victims of trauma, abuse and disadvantage, all of which impact a child’s emotional development and greatly increase the likelihood of offending.

These children need support and rehabilitation in the community, not incarceration.

There is an urgent need to reduce the proportion of children in prison who are awaiting trial and are unable to obtain bail. Over 80 per cent of children in Victorian youth prisons have not been convicted or sentenced of any crime. This disproportionately impacts Aboriginal children.

The evidence to suggest that electronic monitoring is effective at improving community safety is weak. What is clear is that electronic monitoring stigmatises children and takes the focus away from the therapeutic care that children need to overcome trauma and abuse, that are underlying causes of offending.

There is also a concern that oversurveillance of children through electronic monitoring increases the likelihood of discrimination and fuels racist attitudes that compound trauma.

We will continue to advocate for the reforms to the bail laws that the government committed to last year, and for the implementation of Poccum’s Law in full.


Louisa Gibbs, CEO at the Federation of Community Legal Centres said:


“If we truly want to protect communities from crime, we need to help children and young people avoid contact with the criminal legal system. We can do this by ensuring that children and young people remain at home and in school, and have access to the therapeutic supports they need to overcome trauma and abuse, which are underlying causes of offending.

“As an organisation that seeks to promote a fair and inclusive Victoria, and that cares how we nurture every child in this state, we are extremely disappointed by today’s announcement. 

“There is substantial evidence that shows the long-term and devastating impacts of incarceration of children and young people on their development. Incarcerating a child or young person negatively impacts their future trajectories, and is strongly linked to recidivism. And there is virtually no evidence to support electronic monitoring of children as an effective way of reducing crime.

“Keeping communities and children safe are not mutually exclusive, yet the Victorian Government has opted to override its duty of care for children in favour of a ‘tough on crime’ approach. For the sake of children, young people, their families and the communities we all live in, we urge the government to honour the commitments it made last year and to reform the bail laws for Victoria’s young people.”

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