Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic), the state's peak body for young people, is cautious about the Victorian Government's announcement that children and young people from the age of 16 years could be forced to wear electronic monitoring devices and undergo drug and alcohol tests if living in the community on parole.
Crime rates in Victoria are falling, and the vast majority of crimes are not committed by teenagers. Nonetheless, we recognise community concerns about serious offending and acknowledge the government’s stated intent to target electronic monitoring at young people who have committed serious offences. We will be observing closely the use of electronic monitoring, knowing concerns have been raised in the USA about how intrusive and stigmatising it has been for children and young people there. We would prefer to see such monitoring alongside greater funding to supervise and support parolees.
While we agree that alcohol and drug misuse can lead to offending behaviour, we question whether mandatory drug testing will be implemented alongside increased access to alcohol and other drug treatment services where the young person lives. A recent parliamentary inquiry found major gaps in Victoria’s alcohol and drug treatment services for young people. In particular, the inquiry found that drug treatment services are “overwhelmingly” located in Melbourne, despite the higher rates of drug use in rural towns. There is also a gap in drug treatment services which are culturally appropriate and welcoming for Aboriginal young people. The Victorian Government has made some welcome recent commitments to improve drug treatment services, including in rural areas, but for now the problem remains.
Mandatory drug testing without access to treatment services doesn’t support a child or young person to get healthy but rather risks setting them up to fail and returning them to prison.
A comprehensive review of Victoria’s youth justice system called for young people in the system to have priority access to alcohol and drug rehabilitation and detox services. YACVic urges that this, not mandatory drug testing, should be the priority.
We recommend an increase in more qualified workers to build strong and trusting relationships with young people, and services that help young people to stop harmful alcohol or drug use. Similarly, if we are serious about preventing young people from re-offending, we must make sure they have trusted adults around who can help them connect to positive things like school, work, culture and sport, and make better decisions in the future. Electronic monitoring devices can’t do that.
We note that children and young people in detention in Victoria have themselves said that what would help them most when they leave detention would be more support for their families and for them to connect back into school and the community.
YACVic is calling for stronger investment in youth workers right around Victoria. Young people who’ve been involved in the justice system need workers who are experienced and reliable, and who can respond to everything that’s going on in the young person’s life. These workers should be based in the young person’s community for the long term, with strong relationships with local services, families and schools. In particular, we need to address the shortage of qualified workers in some rural towns.
Historically, only 1% of investment in Victoria’s youth justice system has gone into early intervention; the majority of funding has been poured into prisons and other tertiary measures. The best way to keep our community safe is to invest more in diversion and crime prevention at an early age.
Leo Fieldgrass – CEO Youth Affairs Council Victoria – 0439 254 667 or [email protected].