Latest News & Updates

Ending the criminalisation of young people

Youthlaw, in partnership with 17 other leading social services, health, legal and youth advocacy organisations from Smart Justice for Young People, have supported a collective response to the current  Inquiry into Victoria’s Criminal Justice System by the Legislative Council’s Legal and Social Issues Committee (the Inquiry)

Co-Convenors of the coalition Tiffany Overall and Anoushka Jeronimus gave evidence to a public hearing of the Inquiry this week.

They asked the Committee members to imagine a system where there is shared responsibility for preventing offending and re-offending  and keeping the community safe – where Government, education, health, social services and communities all work together to provide early  support to families and help children develop in positive ways and maintain connection with family, community and education.

Victoria must prioritise early support, intervention and prevention, as the most effective ways to promote health and wellbeing and reduce child and youth offending.

They  stressed the importance of ending the criminalisation and overrepresentation in the justice system of Aboriginal children and young people, culturally & linguistically diverse children & young people and young people with experiences of family violence and the out-of-home-care system.

Other key recommendations of the SJ4YP Response are:

  1. A joined up cross government approach to crime prevention that supports young Victorians to lead safe and fulfilling lives
  2. A “justice reinvestment” strategy to reduce the number of children at risk of offending
  3. Building on what we know works to reduce offending and divert children away from the legal system, including cautions, diversion and restorative justice
  4. Minimise Victoria Police members’ interactions with children and young people and ensure members are accountable for fair, professional conduct within the scope of their roles and appropriately resource independent oversight of complaints of police misconduct
  5. Victoria raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14
  6. Victoria legislate to ensure to no child under 16 years can be imprisoned in youth justice detention.
  7. Detention must be a measure of absolute last resort and for the shortest amount of time possible
  8. Urgent reform to bail laws so that young people are only exposed to remand in rare and exceptional circumstances, and only young people over the age of 16 years
  9. Children and young people in youth justice detention facilities must be treated respectfully, humanely and with a focus on rehabilitation, including prohibiting solitary confinement, implementing Government’s obligations pursuant to OPCAT and the provision of an equivalent standard of healthcare to what is available in the community,
  10. A differentiated response to young people under 25 years in the adult prison system, including by expanding the dual track system to include young adults aged 21 to 25.
  11. Judges and magistrates meeting critical core competencies and skills to practice and make decisions that are culturally and gender aware/safe, trauma informed, understand child brain and young person development and neuro diversity, best practice engagement with young people, family violence and recidivism.

SJ4YP members supporting this response

Anglicare Victoria

Dr Diana Johns, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, Melbourne University

CatholicCare Victoria

CMY Centre for Multicultural Youth

Federation of Community Legal Centres Vic

Flemington Kensington Community Legal Centre Inc along with the Police Accountability Project

Inner Melbourne Community Legal

Jesuit Social Services

Melbourne City Mission (MCM)

Oz Child

The Kimberley Foundation

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

VCOSS

WEstjustice

Youth Affairs Council Victoria (YACVic)

Youthlaw

YSAS Youth Support – Advocacy Service

Community lawyers call for public health approach to compliance with directions during circuit breaker lockdown

As a group of community lawyers, we call on the Victorian Government to adopt a public health-based response that encourages COVID safe behaviour and compliance with the latest lockdown circuit breaker restrictions.

We believe a public health response should not heavily rely again on the use of fines during this circuit breaker lockdown.

During the earlier lockdowns we saw certain groups within the community, already being over policed, being much more likely to be fined. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were at least  five times more likely than non-Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to be fined. People living in lower socio-economic areas were twice as likely to be fined, and people born in East Africa and young people were also overrepresented in those people issued COVID fines.

Adopting a public health-based response that uses education and warnings to help people

understand and comply with health advice  is more effective and compassionate than issuing fines.

We welcome the education approach recently taken by Victoria Police in its compliance crackdown to ensure community members are wearing masks on public transport. Police handed out masks to commuters and would only fine where someone refused to wear a mask without a valid reason for not wearing one.

We know from earlier lockdowns that fines don’t keep the community safe: masks, social distancing and vaccinations will.

It is more effective to provide assistance to comply with directions, asking people ‘how we can help you follow the restrictions?’ rather than ‘are you breaking them?’

Children under 18 should be warned and referred to community supports and education to address barriers to good COVID safe health.

Fines should only to be used as a last resort.

Unfortunately, in earlier lockdowns the public health response relied heavily on use of fines – with over 40,000 fines being issued. Around 90% of COVID fines issued to date have not been paid. Many people we assist are in a financial positon that means they will never be able to repay such excessive fines.

Even though government has halved the amount of COVID fines for under 18s, most children will still not be able to pay and will instead accumulate stressful debt.  If unpaid, there is the risk that these young people will be pulled into the justice system.

There is a risk that vulnerable people saddled with these crushing fines will be left behind in COVID-19 recovery.

Youthlaw

Fitzroy Legal Service

Inner Melbourne Legal Centre

Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service

Barwon Community Legal Service

Springvale Monash Legal Service Inc

Media Contact:  For interviews or media requests, Tiffany Overall, Youthlaw tiffany@youthlaw.asn.au or 0400 903034 or Alana Schetzer, Communications Advisor, Youthlaw mediacomms@youthlaw.asn.au

Welcome announcement by Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity

We welcome the announcement today by the Victorian Government to strengthen police integrity. We wait for the detail but call for significant investment in IBAC to enable them to conduct independent investigations of not only corrupt police but also those who abuse their powers and mistreat the public.

Independent investigation of serious complaints against police are long overdue . The Victorian cross parliamentary Inquiry into the Police Complaints system in 2019 recommended IBAC be expanded with funding & powers to independently investigate serious police complaints . The Victorian Government  in December 2019 accepted this and all recommendations of the Inquiry.

Youthlaw and others who have monitored treatment by police of vulnerable Victorians commend this important step to ensure police interactions with the community are of the highest standard and accountable .

Recent press coverage of a significant number of incidents where police mistreated usually highly vulnerable people , has highlighted the need for police to be held more accountable .

Currently 99% of complaints to police whether serious or not are all handled and investigated internally in Victoria Police.  Police have enormous powers including handling of weaponry and charging citizens. These powers need to be overseen and monitored to ensure they are not misused.

The vast majority of police demonstrate skill & compassion in the interactions with the public . For those who do the right thing ,those who don’t must be held accountable & weeded out.

Over 20 years we have seen young people mistreated by police but unwilling to complain because of fear of repercussion either by local police or in the court .  This needs to change .

Ariel Couchman

CEO Young People’s Legal Rights Centre

Mobile : 0438812937

( note unavailable today 7-5-21 from 10.30 to 12 & 2-3pm )

Ariel Couchman

CEO

Youth Coalition support spent convictions scheme

We the undersigned member agencies of Smart Justice for Young People, come together to express our collective support for the scheme proposed in the Spent Convictions Bill.

Smart Justice for Young People – a coalition of over 50 social services, health, legal, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, youth advocacy organisations and academic experts – has been advocating for a spent conviction scheme in Victoria for many years. Spent convictions are those convictions that have reached a set period (i.e. 10 years for an adult offence and 5 years for a child offence) and are removed so they no longer show on an individual’s police criminal record check. Such a scheme is designed to reduce the damaging effect old criminal records can have on people looking for employment, as well as when they try to secure housing or apply for volunteer work.

Victoria is the only state or territory in Australia that does not have a spent convictions scheme.  Victoria Police currently have discretion about whether to disclose convictions.

The Spent Conviction Bill currently being debated in the upper house of Victorian Parliament. The Bill proposes that some convictions will be spent automatically after the set period (all offences by a young person under 15 years and minor offences of those 15 years and over) but for other more serious offences an application for approval is made to the Court to have them spent.

We confirm that the provision immediately spending convictions for children under 15 years is good public policy based on medical evidence that gives children the best chance to not be stigmatised by their past, but rather rehabilitate and move on with their lives.

We support the Bill based on the following fundamental principles:

  • Acknowledgment of the differential developmental stages and needs of children;
  • Promotion of rehabilitation and restorative responses and removal of discriminatory barriers impacting the most vulnerable in our community.

Acknowledgement of the differential developmental stages and needs of children

Under the Bill, children aged under 15 years would have their convictions spent immediately, in recognition of the fact that different approaches are needed to supporting children in comparison to adults. 

Research into brain development consistently shows that children’s brains are still developing and they are, in general, less able than adults to form good judgements.[1]

By spending convictions committed by children under 15, we acknowledge the developmental difference between adults and children and capacity for rehabilitation and change, supported by evidence and our collective work on the ground with marginalised young people.

Concerns have been raised regarding the provision of the Bill to spend convictions for children under 15 where they relate to serious offences. However we wish to highlight that offences of a serious nature committed by young people are rare,[2] rather most children are in the criminal justice system for minor offending and convictions.

In any case, even with the introduction of this scheme, children will still be sentenced within the criminal justice system in the same way and be held accountable for their offending.

It is also important to re-state that under the scheme, in order for a conviction to become eligible to be spent automatically, a period of 5 years with no serious re-offending must be completed by the child.

The provision within the Bill to ‘spend’ the convictions does not delete the convictions, they are just not disclosed for certain purposes. Under the proposed legislation, police and courts will continue to have full access to criminal histories and records which will be released when required for certain employers and third parties to make necessary risk assessments.

Promotion of rehabilitation and restorative responses and removal of discriminatory barriers impacting the most vulnerable in our community

The scheme acknowledges children’s capacity for genuine change and rehabilitation.   We emphasise that many of those who have had contact with the justice system are particularly vulnerable, having often faced multiple layers of complex disadvantage in their lives, in circumstances beyond their control. Many have a history of trauma, abuse or neglect; experience mental health problems, drug or alcohol problems; cognitive disability; and/or have had involvement with child protection services and out-of-home care.

The impact of current legislation is also particularly felt by communities that are disproportionately represented in the criminal justice system – particularly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and culturally and linguistically diverse communities who face compounding discriminatory barriers in terms of access to employment, education and housing.

Critically this scheme will reduce the damaging impact and barriers to education, employment and housing faced by some of the most vulnerable members of our community based on their historical criminal records. The scheme will give young people the opportunity to rehabilitate, and offers a vital second chance to adults who have previously committed an offence and provide an opportunity to set their lives on a better path. 

JOINTLY SIGNED by

Julie Edwards, Chief Executive Officer

Jesuit Social Services

Carmel Guerra, Chief Executive Officer

CMY (Centre for Multicultural Youth)

Emma King, Chief Executive Officer

Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) 

Marius Smith, Chief Executive Officer

VACRO

Andrew Bruun, Chief Executive Officer

YSAS (Youth Support – Advocacy Service)

Deb Tsorbaris, Chief Executive Officer

Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare

Dr Diana Johns, Senior Lecturer in Criminology

The University of Melbourne

Dr Mark Zirnsak, Senior Social Justice Advocate
Synod of Victoria and Tasmania, Uniting Church in Australia

Meena Singh, Legal Director

Human Rights Law Centre.

Claudia Fatone, Chief Executive Officer

Fitzroy Legal Service

Melissa Hardham, Chief Executive Officer

WEstjustice

Ariel Couchman, Chief Executive Officer

Youthlaw

Mitty Williams Trustee

The Kimberley Foundation


[1] Cauffman, E., & Steinberg, L. (2000). (Im)maturity of judgment in adolescence: why adolescents may be less culpable than adults. Behavioral Sciences and the Law 18 (6).

[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics (2021) https://www.abs.gov.au/statistics/people/crime-and-justice/recorded-crime-offenders/latest-release; Crime Statistics Agency. (2019). Latest crime data – Year ending June 2019. Retrieved from https://www.crimestatistics.vic.gov.au/crime-statistics/latest-crime-data