New youth justice report highlights how punitive responses don’t work

March 07, 2018 |

The Victorian Parliament’s Legal and Social Issues Committee final report  from its Inquiry into Youth Justice Centres in Victoria keeps a focus on some major systemic issues of our youth justice centres and system.

The report has considerable overlap with other recent youth justice reports including the Ogloff and Armytage youth justice review and Same Four Walls by the Commission for Children and Young People. Some of the Committee’s recommendations are already being implemented by the Department of Justice.

Importantly the Committee agrees with Armytage and Ogloff about the need for the system to focus on rehabilitation and evidence based practice, and that strengthening early intervention programs that will allow the youth justice system to effectively intervene in the lives of young people at risk of offending. The parliamentary report found inadequate provision of rehabilitative and support services to young people across the spectrum of contact with the youth justice system  including support for young people are released from detention.

The Committee acknowledged recent attitudinal change of parts of Victorian community,media and parliament, away from rehabilitation and towards punitive responses, and that these increasingly punitive and restrictive responses to incidents have created further tension within youth justice centres.

The Committee also reports on unusually and unnecessarily high remand populations and short sentence lengths, which the system has been unable to adequately respond to.

We agree with the Committee that Government must reduce the numbers of young people in detention un-sentenced in remand. However despite the Committee’s focus on this critical issue, we are concerned that numbers will rise further in the immediate future with the changes to the Bail Act to come into force soon will restrict access to and make it much harder for a young person to secure supervised bail and be able to stay in the community awaiting the resolution of their matter.
Other Committee recommendations include:

  • new programs to address the over-representation in the youth justice system of young people from out-of-home care and refugee and migrant backgrounds,
  • stabilising staffing and employ an appropriately qualified and diverse workforce in youth justice centres.
  • broadening assessment procedures for young people entering youth justice centres, to include additional factors such as developmental age and cognitive development
  • developing better understanding of the drivers for high remand numbers and and implement rehabilitation programs suitable for young people on remand.
  • the Children’s Court to review its group conferencing program to determine whether it can occur prior to sentencing
  • on going reporting requirements of use of isolation, and lockdowns in young justice centres.

Providing more effective post-release services to young people who have spent time in a youth justice centre to help reduce the risk of re-offending.

Sign up