What we’ve had to say about juvenile detention, youth crime and other issues

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Royal Commission into NT juvenile justice & Commissioner review of Victorian juvenile detention

We welcome the Royal Commission into the Don Dale youth detention centre after the airing of the shocking treatment of young people in the NT Don Dale Youth Detention centre on the ABC program Four Corners on the 25th July 2016. (You can follow its proceedings and watch public hearings here).

We welcome the statement by Victorian Child & Youth Commissioner Liana Buchanan that she instigated a review of the Victorian juvenile detention system.

See the insightful comments from both Victorian Commissioners Liana Buchanan & Andrew Jackomos here.

See article on alternatives to youth detention here.

Youth Crime

There has been much sensational and some balanced media about youth crime over recent months.
The good news is the number of youth people offending in Victoria is on the decline and has been over the past 5 to 10 years.

The crime statistics at the centre of inflammatory media reporting are ‘incidents’ of youth crime. This includes the multiple offending of one person. Reading the headlines you would think that there were more young people offending and that we have a generation of youth out of control. This is not the case.   
There has been a rise over the past 18 months of serious repeat offending. A core group of young people have graduated rapidly to very serious offending – that is, high speed stolen vehicle offences, carjacking, aggravated burglaries and home invasions.
Police, government and the community are working on how to respond to this serious offending. We need to be measured in our response and acknowledge that, outside of this relatively small group of offenders, youth offending is declining rather than spiking.
  • The Victorian Crimes Statistics Agency confirms that since 2009-10 there has been a 42 percent decrease in the number of unique offenders aged 10-17 years in Victoria
  • 10 to 14 year old offending in Victoria has steadily declined over the past 10 years.

The risk within the current environment is that we will spend much energy fighting to keep the positive aspects of the system, that is a specialist system for youth offenders, Victoria’s unique dual track system for 18-20 year olds, etc, rather than further improve the system.

We agree with many others including the President of the Children’s Court and the Children’s Commissioner that we need to tackle the causes underlying youth offending and get supports in as early as possible. Better engaging children and young people in education is one of the key solutions to reducing offending. 
See our blog for further discussion here, and see here for Victoria Legal Aid’s comment.
See our summary (July 2016) of relevant stats on youth crime here.

Sex offenders register

We have written to Attorney – General Pakula about the sex offenders register and have called for amendments to the Sex Offenders Registration Act 2004 so that registration of young offenders is discretionary not mandatory and to establish a Sex Offenders Registration Review Panel which has powers to terminate registration of a person where it is satisfied that no useful protective purpose is served by the registration continuing.

Age of criminal responsibility

We have called on the Victorian Government and all Australian states and territories to increase the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12 years, as 12 is the minimum age to comply with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

We welcome the strong advocacy from Jesuit Social Services in Victoria for increasing the age from 10 to 12. See their excellent report: Too much too young: Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 12 (October 2015) and open letter to Australia’s Attorneys-General (24 October 2015).

Transfer of young people to adult prison & the issue of solitary confinement

We spoke to the media and have advocated strongly for legislation to prevent the transfer of young people under 18 years from youth detention into the adult prison system. We have also commented on solitary confinement of young people in detention whether that is in remand, juvenile or adult detention. As of August 2016 the Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People is conducting a review of juvenile detention.

Cost obstacles to public interest cases

On 2 August 2013 the Court of Appeal of the Supreme Court of Victoria handed down a decision that will assist people to mount a public interest case without fear of being bankrupted.

The legal proceeding related to our test case on police complaints. Our client faced thousands of dollars in costs if he continued to pursue the case. The decision fixed costs either way (win or lose) at $5,000. The decision also set out the reasons for allowing this ‘protective cost order’. These reasons included being in the public interest and that the applicant was not seeking individual compensation. It was a first for Victoria and will be influential nationally, with Australia having no national laws regulating costs in public interest cases. It means that vulnerable people bringing public interest cases will not be discouraged by the fear of significant legal costs if they are not successful.

See the media coverage of the decision: