Youth justice fix must be rehabilitative and age appropriate

February 06, 2017 |

Youth justice advocacy coalition, Smart Justice for Young People is disappointed by the Victorian Government’s decision to move the management of youth justice from Department of Human Services to the Department of Justice and Regulation, the department that manages adult prisons.

While recognising the youth justice system needs to be substantially improved, this move risks undermining a necessarily different justice response for children.

Children should be treated differently than adults. This is premised on a child’s unique capacity to be rehabilitated and the accepted science that explains how the adolescent brain makes children think and act differently to adults.

Victoria’s youth justice system has long been nationally acclaimed in the past for its focus on diversion, rehabilitation and age appropriate justice responses. This focus has arguably helped to give Victoria one of the lowest child crime rates in Australia and one of the lowest child imprisonment rates.

This move risks the system losing its focus on rehabilitation and age appropriate responses which critically makes it far less likely for young people to be repeat offenders. Restrictive and punitive approaches do not work.

This move pre-empts recommendations that will come from a major current review of youth support, youth diversion and youth justice services, which has a focus on long term solutions.

The Victorian Government should not be pressured into reactive decisions, but rather show leadership and make changes for the longer term to rebuild public confidence in the system and return Victoria to a position of leading the country in how we secure community safety through an effective youth justice system: from crime prevention, diversion through to effective tailored and rehabilitative interventions.

In overcoming the infrastructure problems of Parkville centre, the design of the new youth justice  facility must also  consider the recommendations of the youth justice review. A new youth justice facility should be built for purpose and people –  and provide for the safety and security of staff, children and the community and also the rehabilitative and educational supports that vulnerable children need in an age appropriate and therapeutic environment.

The Government’s immediate priority should be addressing the pressing  issue of  excessive lockdowns and solitary confinement in Victoria’s youth jails.

The Victorian Ombudsman report, tabled in Parliament today confirms that a combination of staff shortages and increasing overcrowding have contributed to a regime of lockdowns of young people (up to 23 hours a day). This management practice erodes a child’s chances of rehabilitation and is likely to result in further unrest.

These issues, together with further allegations of mistreatment of children in Barwon adult prison, must be addressed immediately.

Contact:  Tiffany Overall, 0400 903 034