Dear Ministers

As you are planning priorities for  your first term, we take this opportunity to raise with you key areas for policy development.

The Youthlaw Policy Platform 2015  outlines realistic directions and outcomes that will substantially assist a significant and growing number of vulnerable young people across Victoria. Our key policy development areas include :

Service system, support & intervention for vulnerable young people

We welcome your Government’s commitment to reinstate TAFE funding, to improve public education and training options and the introduction of a Minister for the Prevention of Family Violence. There are major gaps in service support for the increasing number of vulnerable young people in this state. We strongly urge the reconsideration of a comprehensive and cross portfolio  vulnerable youth framework such as was introduced in 2010.

 Crime prevention and diversion from the criminal justice system

Youth diversion is currently not legislated and very limited in it’s availability.  Youth diversion is urgently needed, highly effective and will reduce the mounting pressure on the courts and on prisons. The need for adequately funded and legislated youth diversion is needed  to divert young people from the criminal justice system and to assist them to lead productive lives.

We note the clear ALP pre- election commitment to youth diversion . Members and supporters of the Smart Justice for Young People group strongly support state wide legislated youth diversion.

 Youth remand and detention

Due to legislative and regulatory changes under the previous government, there is currently an unacceptable high number of young people on remand. There is an urgent need to review bail and remand practices and fund more bail support services. In regard to youth detention whilst Victoria’s detention rate  is very low compared to elsewhere in Australia and overseas we urge vigilance to ensure detention is a last resort , that probation is not unnecessarily hindered, that the Victorian dual track model is preserved, and that youth in detention receive the supports they need to change their lives.

Fines and young people

Vulnerable young people are disproportionately affected by the current adult and child infringement systems and the increasing reliance by government on fine penalties. There is little protection for them from being drawn into the court and criminal justice systems. Fines are generally excessive particularly given their capacity to pay.  Young people with parents who can pay their fines are able to avoid court and criminal records whereas those without financial means face court and a criminal record.

Youthlaw is extremely concern about the impact of PSOs on vulnerable young people, including over policing, increased and excessive fining, drawing them into the criminal justice system and escalation of conflict.  We regularly assist young people fined by Protective Service Officer (PSOs). Commonly they present with multiple fines, on average totalling $1,000. Many have been fined multiple times over the space of a short period.

Our view is that PSOs should be directed to their core business of providing ‘safety’ and not to fining clearly vulnerable people. And so while we support Government initiatives to promote a safer community, we  seek a review of the PSO scheme including  a review of their numbers, where they are positioned, possession of weapons, training, exercise of their discretion to caution and their scope to fine.

Justice reinvestment

We applaud the governments response to released data on rising imprisonment levels and recidivism rates. We strongly encourage the government adopt and implement a justice reinvestment approach to reduce crime and incarceration. In particular we urge your government to pilot a justice reinvestment project in Victoria targeting children and young people.

Police Accountability

We urge your government to expand the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission (IBAC) to effectively and independently investigate misconduct complaints against police and have the power to charge and prosecute their misconduct.

There is little in the way of publically available accessible analysis of police data and crime statistics (including fines by PSOs)  that explains the nature and extent of youth offending (including infringements). We support the new independent Crime Statistics Agency regularly publishing data reports that provide transparency and  the evidence to inform policy development.

We look forward to working with you in the future and I would be happy to meet with you to brief you more fully on our policy platform and our work with young people.

Yours Sincerely

 Ariel Couchman, Director