This report examines the lived experiences of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria and the factors contributing to their over-representation in the youth justice system. It presents the findings and recommendations of the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce and the Commission’s systemic inquiry, Our youth, our way. The Koori Youth Justice Taskforce considered all Aboriginal children and young people in contact with Youth Justice from October 2018 to March 2019.
- The Commission recommends legislative change to prohibit children under the age of 16 years being sentenced to, or remanded in, youth justice custody. Victoria’s current minimum age of responsibility has devastating consequences for Aboriginal children and their families. Aboriginal children aged 10 to 13 years are vastly over-represented in the Victorian youth justice system. Most of the Aboriginal children and young people consulted for the inquiry were younger than 14 at the time of their first contact with police. Rather than being diverted away from the youth justice system, many of these children found that early contact with police led to repeated contact and entrenchment in the system.
- The Commission found that Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system are better supported and more connected to services when they have a trusted, reliable adult in their lives who is able to advocate for their needs. In many cases this will be an Aboriginal worker.
- The youth justice system must be responsive to the unique experiences, circumstances and strengths of each Aboriginal child and young person who has contact with it. This means being sensitive to the multiple aspects of a young person’s identity, and the cumulative risks of discrimination and marginalisation that some children and young people experience because of other aspects of their identity, including gender, disability and LGBTQI+ status.
- The Commission recommends the introduction of family group conferencing based on the New Zealand model as a formal mechanism for family involvement in planning and decision-making regarding appropriate interventions for children who are engaging in offending behaviour. Family group conferencing should provide integrated and coordinated welfare responses to address the needs of children and young people and their families, and the underlying causes of the offending behaviour.