Thinking outside: alternatives to remand for children

26 Feb 2013

The report is the result of twelve months research by Jesuit Social Services that was funded by a grant from the Legal Services Board Grants Program. Along with conventional social research methods, the approach was influenced by Jesuit Social Services’ long record of engagement in the field and its mission of seeking to build a just society.

The impetus for remand reform for children is discussed in the introductory section of the report . The report adduces evidence of Victoria’s achievements in this field. Victoria has the lowest rate of young people on remand in Australia. However, the number of unsentenced Victorian children is growing with consequential mixing of unsentenced and sentenced children in the Parkville Youth Justice Centre – with an attendant risk of breaching Victorian law and national and international principles of human rights. The trend to make greater use of custodial remand also raises questions, taken up in later sections, about the cost effectiveness associated with the use of custodial measures at the expense of constructive community - based services.

Several interrelated features of the social backgrounds of the children dealt with by the youth justice system form recurrent themes of the report. For example, profiles of young people in detention show that a high proportion of detainees have been victims of abuse, trauma, and neglect, with high rates of drug and alcohol abuse, child protection involvement and school exclusion. Mental health issues and intellectual disability are also prominent. Particular attention is given to the need for a wider focus on the environments in which children develop and this brings in factors such as family, school, community and society. Evidence gathered in the present project shows that children who come into the system at an earlier age are associated with higher rates of offending and longer criminal careers. Also, Aboriginal children are over-represented in youth justice systems across all states and territories in Australia.

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