The Koorie Youth Council is deeply concerned at the announcement that responsibility for youth justice will move from Department of Health and Human Services to the Department of Justice and Regulation. Victoria has some of the nation’s lowest rates of Aboriginal young people in custody and the recent decision threatens to change this.
Victoria’s youth justice system is in need of reform, but putting the responsibility for young people with the adult system will not solve the current issues nor provide the outcomes the government is seeking. The Victorian Ombudsman’s report into youth justice facilities highlighted that, “there is no short-term quick fix to the serious problems affecting youth justice, which have their origins not only in ageing infrastructure but in the complex interplay of health and human services, education and the justice system.”
Evidence demonstrates that young people who are incarcerated are far more likely to reoffend and continue offending as adults, so these changes are likely to result in more crime, rather than less. The decision also contradicts research into youth justice that consistently suggests that youth justice produces better outcomes under a health and human services framework – the same research that has led the Northern Territory government to move their youth justice system from corrections to the Department of Families, a DHHS equivalent department.
Victoria’s youth justice system cares for some of the most disadvantaged young people in our state. The latest annual report from the Youth Parole Board demonstrates that youth justice clients have high rates of trauma, mental health issues, poverty and educational disadvantage. These young people require culturally-informed care and youth-specific rehabilitation that the adult corrections system is ill-equipped to provide.
Newly introduced punitive measures of restraint such as tear gas, isolation and batons further traumatise young people who have the right to be treated with dignity in a manner appropriate to their age.
The Koorie Youth Council has genuine fears that the government’s decision could increase the amount of young Aboriginal people in youth justice, increase the likelihood of these clients becoming adult offenders and deepen the social disadvantage experienced by many youth justice offenders. Monday’s decision has not given the government time to consider the results of the ongoing youth justice review and upcoming Parliamentary Inquiry into Youth Justice Centres. This disregards the voice of many service providers and advocacy bodies representing young Aboriginal people and our self-determination.