August 07, 2017 |
The widest review of Victoria’s youth justice system has sent a clear message to the Victorian Government: the needs of children must come first.
The comprehensive report by Professor James Ogloff and Penny Armytage provides 126 recommendations for meeting the diverse needs of children at each stage of their interaction with the justice system, and ensuring the State Government fulfils its responsibility to care for them.
Smart Justice for Young People convenor Tiffany Overall welcomed the report and said it provided a vision of what a successful youth justice system should look like.
‘Victoria needs to scrap the heavy-handed approach that’s seen children locked away and subjected to abuse and mistreatment, said Ms Overall.
‘We must be guided by the fundamental goals of keeping kids away from prisons and supporting them to thrive in their communities and with their families, where they belong.’
The report indicates that a disproportionate amount of resources have been poured into the tertiary end of the system (e.g. child prisons) instead of intervening early with support for especially young children in need of guidance and assistance.
‘A child who comes into contact with the justice system needs help, not a criminal record. This is the government’s chance to turn the page and focus on providing the right support, at the right time.’
Victoria’s treatment of Aboriginal children is also highlighted in the report as worse than most Australian states, with Indigenous young people making up 16% of youth justice ‘clients’ who received a new order in the 2015-16 year, despite only accounting for 1-2% of the state’s general population.
Ogloff and Armytage have urged the government to support more Indigenous community-led initiatives in their recommendations – all of which have been accepted or accepted in principle by Minister for Children and Families Jenny Mikakos.
‘By embracing the recommendations, we’re pleased the government acknowledges that some children have been unfairly targeted and criminalised by the system, including Indigenous children and young people in out of home care.’
‘Now is the time to put young people first and strengthen community-led action on this issue.’
While the report presents a promising opportunity to improve the wellbeing of young people and the broader Victorian community, Ms Overall said it also raised some red flags, particularly in relation to security and the potential introduction of weapons.
‘The idea of bringing OC spray, batons and restraint belts into a children’s custodial environment is highly concerning and inappropriate.’
‘We’ve seen atrocities play out in youth justice centres across Australia. Victoria is not exempt from the shame that continues to plague Don Dale. It’s critical that we move forward, away from these dangerous practices.’
Ms Overall also noted that some of the recommendations in the Review clashed with Government proposals in the Youth Justice Reform Bill currently being debated in Parliament. In June, Smart Justice for Young People called for a suspension of debate until the release of the Ogloff-Armytage Review.
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