Latest News & Updates

Young people are being punished for being victims of childhood abuse & neglect

Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover report

28 June 2019

The Sentencing Advisory Council Crossover Kids report into vulnerable children in the criminal justice system  released yesterday,  is a powerful analysis of a historical & current failure to adequately address the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect.

This is a timely report given the recent Vic Government budget announcement of expansions & new prisons to be built.

It is quite clear from this report that adequately addressing the trauma of childhood abuse & neglect would substantially reduce prison numbers.

The report tells us that young people are being fast tracked into the criminal justice system. They are being punished for being abused in childhood.  Of all children sentenced or diverted in the Children’s Court in 2016 & 2017 (a total of 5,063 children) 1938 or 38% had a history of child protection.

  • 58% of those offending between 10 & 15 had a child protection history. Previous studies have found early offending to be a strong predictor of re-offending & adult imprisonment
  • A high proportion of young people on remand have a child protection history.
  • 1 in 2 in youth detention had a child protection background
  • Multiple placements in care was a prominent feature (1 in 2 had 5 or more placements )
  • Residential unit care was a prominent feature ( 58% in residential care /10% in other care )
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people were over represented by a factor of 11.5

It is time that the trauma that children have experienced is adequately recognised and addressed.

There are simple actions the Victorian government can take:

  1. Early and adequate therapeutic care, counselling & support for all children experiencing childhood abuse, including at opportune moments such as early offending.  We note a similar recommendation from the Victorian Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People Andrew Jackomos (Always was ,Always will be Koori Children – 2016 )as well as many other recommendations, in regard to Koori children in the child protection system.
  2. Improved care in child protection – Residential care and multiple placements are clearly inadequate and very harmful. The Vic Gov’t has signalled intention to move young people out of residential care; however more needs to be done. It can’t be temporary /inadequate fixes such as caravan park accommodation.
  3. Review of bail laws and guidelines to ensure that young people with a child protection background are not disproportionately impacted because of lack of a home to be bailed to.
  4. Legislative guidelines to all courts sentencing children that they must take into account the child’s experience of abuse, trauma & neglect, parental death, loss, removal from family or experience of out-of-home care and how these circumstances relate to the child’s offending; the need to ensure that the child has a safe, stable and secure place to live; or the need to protect the child from harm or the risk of harm. Currently NO such requirements exist in sentencing guidelines
  5. Government initiated protocols to reduce involvement of police in residential homes, those results in charging of young people.
  6. Raise the age of criminal responsibility

Taking action will reduce youth crime & prisons numbers. What could be better for the gov’t and the community?

The report is 1 of 2 to be released. The 2nd will drill down to the type & extent of abuse experienced by those in the criminal justice system.  We expect this will reveal that often those most severely sentenced in the criminal justice system are those who have been most severely abused.

It is important we all recognise that most young people with a child protection history do not offend. The number of child offenders with a child protection history was 1,938 over the 2 years studied whereas in the year 2015-16 there were almost 15,000 substantiated child protection cases and close to 10,000 children were removed and placed in care.

Find the report at

Ariel Couchman

Young People’s Legal Rights Centre (Youthlaw)


Proposed changes to laws will result in more young people in the criminal justice system

Proposed new laws , listed to be debated in Parliament today, would result in more  young people, often from disadvantaged parts of our community, getting caught up in the criminal justice system.  These proposals come at a critical time when Victoria actually needs to be doing much more to reduce prison numbers and promote reforms to prevent people entering cycles of crime.

In particular our concerns with the Bill are provisions that:

  1. Permits police officers taking DNA samples from children without judicial oversight. We believe the current law provides important and necessary protection to children given their greater vulnerability, the imbalance between a police officer and a child suspect and the potential for undue influence, and
  2. Introduce a new criminal offence of intimidation of officers or a family members that we believe will see over-charging of alleged young offenders (often from disadvantaged parts of our community) potentially in circumstances where the officer or family members were not placed in a state of apprehension or fear, and where the accused did not intend to place the victim in such a state.
  3. The Bill reduces the commercial quantity of heroin from 250 grams to 50 grams and introduces a new offence of trafficking for an organisation. Our concern is that the significant quantity adjustment will put a large number of vulnerable heroin users in the commercial trafficking offence category. People charged as commercial quantity traffickers would no longer have options which help users to rehabilitate, recover from their addiction and be supported to steer away from the criminal justice system.

We urge Victorian parliamentarians to rethink these changes in the Bill that we fear will not promote a safer community (as intended), but  entrench more young people in the crime, who could have remained and been supported in their communities.


Youthlaw’s platform: Victorian state election 2018

In a letter sent this week, Youthlaw calls on all candidates to consider the critical youth justice issues leading up to and beyond the upcoming Victorian election.

We urge candidates to back Youthlaw’s platform and the realistic solutions and evidence of what works to support all young people to have the opportunity to realise their potential.

We highlight the disturbing statistic that 60% of young people in child prisons are from communities that are significantly disadvantaged, dislocated and often excluded.

We stress that it is imperative that our leaders are vocal in their condemnation of growing racial abuse directed at these communities.

We emphasise the need to assist a significant and growing number of vulnerable young people across Victoria and address disadvantage and exclusion of their communities.

We also highlight the substantial increase in youth and adult prison numbers over the past 10 years and the high return rate to prison.

We remind candidates that prison is largely ineffective and very costly and that building more prisons is clearly unsustainable.

We call for a solution that redirects investment in prisons toward community-based initiatives that deal with the underlying causes of crime. Justice reinvestment is an internationally proven approach that builds community capacity, reduces crime, and saves taxpayer’s money.

We caution candidates about the harms of introducing harsh laws to deal with a small but high offending cohort of young people in Victoria. Laws that reverse the onus of bail and bring in mandatory sentencing for example will have unintended impacts & net widen, bringing more young Victorians in contact wit the criminal justice system.

We call on candidates to commit to scrutinising all laws that negatively impact on young people & uphold their human rights.

We also call on all candidates to publicly support increased independent investigation of police complaints and the resourcing and  implementation of the IBAC committee’s recommendations.

Police complaints overhaul

We welcome the IBAC parliamentary committee report on the Victorian police complaints system, released on 4th September 2018 .

As you may know Youthlaw has been campaigning for independent investigation of police complaints, for many years  This year Youthlaw and many other CLCs made submissions & spoke to  the IBAC parliamentary committee .

The report recs if implemented  are a big positive step towards independent investigation of complaints . Key recs are that the gov’t funds IBAC  to set up a police complaints division and that they are required to undertake complete investigation of all serious police misconduct complaints .

See media coverage


We are working with the other legal services to ensure the report recs are implemented .  This will include further advocacy if needed.  We are concerned that the definition of ‘serious police complaints’ will not cover much of the serious mistreatment young people report. If this is the case we and others will be strongly advocating for a broader definition to be legislated.

The gov’t has announced they are putting the report on hold for 6 months until after the election.

If you want to read the report here is the link