This youth justice review and strategy, commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), delivers on an Andrews Government election commitment and marks the first attempt at systematic reform of youth justice services since 2000, when A Balanced Approach was released. The Review provides an opportunity to redesign the system to create an evidence-based response to youth offending and youth crime that is reflective of the needs and attitudes of young people and the broader community.
This report details the significant challenges and issues affecting the Victorian youth justice system at the community and custodial levels, as well as issues and shortcomings of the underpinning legislative framework, governance and administration. It provides a detailed account of the current cohort of young people in youth justice and offers a set of observations and recommendations necessary to recalibrate and refocus the system on what it must do: meet the needs of young people to address their offending behaviour and stop them from further offending.
Although the task will be challenging, the Review team is encouraged by the unwavering and enduring commitment to the rehabilitation of young offenders by stakeholders. The observations and recommendations have been enriched by the valuable contributions of many.
The Review met with a cross-section of youth justice workers. Although workforce challenges are significant, the Review was heartened by the commitment of many workers, some of whom had worked in youth justice for more than two decades. The Review also encountered employees new to the system who are looking to dedicate their careers to helping young people turn their lives around.
Finally, special mention must be made of the young people involved in the Review through centre visits, focus groups, workshops and the survey, which received more than 1,000 responses. Young people have a strong desire to be directly involved in approaches to addressing youth crime. The Review team heard many distressing stories about the experiences of some young people but, more importantly, heard stories of hope and determination to improve their lives and the lives of their friends and families. Young people must be at the centre of everything the youth justice system does.
The project was sponsored by the Honorable Jenny Mikakos, Minister for Families and Children and Minister for Youth Affairs. The Secretary to DHHS appointed the independent reviewers: Penny Armytage and James Ogloff AM. The Project Advisory Group, co‑chaired by the Minister and Secretary (established in September 2016), was a valuable forum and facilitated expert advice and dialogue in relation to the emerging challenges, directions and opportunities for improvement. An internal advisory group of program and policy executives also provided advice and consultation to the Review and met on two occasions.
The majority of the Review was carried out while responsibility for Youth Justice sat with DHHS. From 3 April 2017, responsibility for the youth justice portfolio moved to the Department of Justice and Regulation, which absorbs all of DHHS’ youth justice responsibilities.
The objectives of the Review were to:
• create an overarching policy framework for the development of a contemporary youth justice system and accompanying service delivery model
• aim to understand the needs of cohorts of young people, and segments of young offenders, that are particularly vulnerable to exploitation and at high risk of involvement with the youth justice system
• deliver a strategy to enhance and position the department’s youth support, youth diversion and youth justice services to respond to the needs of vulnerable cohorts into the future.
The report has been prepared in two parts. The first part includes the background information considered in the Review, including an introduction to the Review (Chapter 1); an overview of Victoria’s youth justice system (Chapter 2); a snapshot of the delivery of youth justice services (Chapter 3); youth offending, needs and backgrounds (Chapter 4); and broader youth trends affecting youth justice (Chapter 5). Part 2 provides the analyses, observations and recommendations arising from the Review, including: system-level issues (Chapter 6); community supervision challenges (Chapter 7); custodial operating model and challenges (Chapter 8); and realigning the future system (Chapter 9).