Inquiry into youth justice centres in Victoria: final report

6 Mar 2018

Chapter 1 provides an overview of the youth justice system in Victoria, including the 2017 machinery of government change in responsibility from the Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice and Regulation. It includes a history of youth justice in Victoria up to the passing of the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 and the Children and Justice Legislation Amendment (Youth Justice Reform) Act 2017. The chapter explains the differences between young offenders and adult offenders, a difference which underpins the youth justice system. It concludes by outlining the problems faced by the youth justice system in Victoria. These problems are addressed in detail throughout this Final Report.

Chapter 2 contains data on youth offending in Victoria and Australia. It profiles the nature of youth offending, including the most common crimes committed and the fact that first‑time offending is becoming more serious in nature with a recent increase in the number of charges per case.

Chapter 3 examines diversion programs for young offenders. Diversion works best when it has the support of communities and the police. The chapter examines some conceptual problems with diversion, including potential negative impacts to a young person. The chapter explores the notion that the youth justice system can in fact lead to improved outcomes for young people. It concludes with an overview of Victoria’s current diversion programs and a discussion on the concept of early intervention.

Chapter 4 examines the Children’s Court of Victoria, which is comprised of a number of divisions and the Youth Parole Board. It reveals that the number of cases heard by the Court has declined over recent years, yet problems remain with delays to some young people’s cases. This is mostly due to an increase in the number of charges per case. The chapter then explains sentencing guidelines for young offenders, including relevant human rights charters, and the role of the dual track system for young adults. Delays in processing time are problematic because they create instability in a young person’s life and, if convicted, remove the link between cause and effect; that is, the link between the crime and the sentence. This problem is exacerbated when young people do not understand the court process.

Chapter 5 looks at remand for young offenders in Victoria. It reveals that this is currently a serious problem as both the number of young people on remand and the time they spend on remand has grown. These increases have been linked with recent problems such as unrest in youth justice facilities, as young offenders on remand are unsettled and do not receive the same programs as sentenced young offenders. Explanations for the increase vary from: part of a ‘tough on crime’ response by police and the courts; a necessary response to the increase in violent young offenders; to a need for systemic reform.

The chapter concludes with a discussion on programs intended to reduce delays in remand. These include the Fast Track Remand Court, the Central After Hours Assessment and Bail Placement Service, the Intensive Bail Supervision Program, and the Youth Justice Advice Service.

Chapter 6 examines Victoria’s therapeutic approach to youth justice, which recognises the impact that trauma or disadvantage has on young offenders’ behaviour and provides the relevant services to address the young offenders’ needs. The overall aim of therapeutic models is to ensure that contact with the youth justice system does not cause further harm to a young person nor contribute to their reoffending. Several examples from overseas jurisdictions are provided.

Chapter 6 continues with a discussion on the initial assessment of young offenders when they first have contact with the youth justice system. This assessment has been identified as often inadequate and inconsistent. It then discusses how a lack of appropriately trained and experienced staff in youth justice centres impedes the successful implementation of a therapeutic model. The chapter concludes by identifying problems with the inappropriate use of lockdowns, isolation and separation in youth justice facilities and how these problems contributed to recent unrest.

Chapter 7 discusses deficient oversight of youth justice in Victoria. A loss of experienced, full‑time staff and failure to consistently adhere to policies and procedures had a negative impact on operations in youth justice centres, including the delivery of rehabilitation services. The Committee also received evidence of examples of poor managerial accountability in youth justice centres and the way in which this harmed workplace culture within the facilities. In particular, staff felt that how they responded to violence in the facilities would not be supported by management.

The chapter concludes with a discussion on the Commission for Children and Young People, the Victorian Ombudsman and the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, three organisations that oversee youth justice in Victoria, and the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture.

Chapter 8 looks at the physical infrastructure of Victoria’s youth justice facilities and its relationship with rehabilitation. The Committee found that safe and secure facilities are one part of a stable youth justice system. However, the Committee also heard that Victoria’s facilities are ageing, dangerous and no longer suitable for the profile of young offenders they currently house. These factors contributed to the unrest in facilities. The chapter then presents evidence on how jurisdictions in the United States and Spain operate their youth justice facilities.

The problems at Victoria’s youth justice facilities, especially Parkville, are partly due to the fact that they were designed and built many years ago. They housed a different profile of young offenders in the past and Parkville was not designed to house large numbers of remandees. The chapter concludes with an update on the new youth justice facility being built at Cherry Creek in Melbourne’s west.

Chapter 9 covers staffing in youth justice centres. Rehabilitation will not succeed without positive professional relationships between staff and young offenders. This means that there must be a stable workforce of well‑trained staff who are in their roles long enough for these relationships to develop. A high turnover of staff has seen an over‑reliance on agency staff leading to the casualisation of the workforce.

These staffing problems have led to an excessive use of lockdowns and disruption of service delivery, which has helped create instability in the centres. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the training, remuneration and qualifications that a youth justice workforce needs.

Chapter 10 provides an overview of post‑release services for young offenders in Victoria. Measuring the success of post‑release services is difficult and the Committee could not find any role within DJR with responsibility for monitoring post‑release services. The chapter concludes with an explanation of why transition support, particularly stable housing, is so important in helping young offenders avoid reoffending.

Chapter 11 discusses Victoria’s approach to Koori youth justice. Key issues include: a failure to address over‑representation of Koori young people in youth justice; not prioritising Koori‑led oversight and leadership of youth justice responses; limitations in current services, including geographical spread and the ability to provide culturally appropriate services.

The chapter provides a summary of Koori youth justice programs and services, including: the community‑based Koori Youth Justice Program; the Koori Intensive Support Program; the Children’s Koori Court; and the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service. It concludes with a discussion of ‘justice reinvestment’, which is an approach to rehabilitation based on addressing the needs of offenders while also attending to the needs of victims and communities.

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