Jesuit Social Services welcomes the opportunity to contribute to the Commission for Children and Young People’s Our Youth, Our Way systemic inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system.
The impacts of colonisation, racism and dispossession continue to be felt by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and communities, and over-representation in the justice system must be understood as a result of this. Fundamentally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must have control over addressing issues that affect them, and support to strengthen their families and communities through greater connection to culture and tradition. The strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people must be harnessed to increase protective factors and prevent contact with the justice system.
In our submission, we offer a number of recommendations in response to questions outlined in the inquiry’s terms of reference. These include:
- Raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years and funding programs that take a restorative and therapeutic approach to anti-social behaviour in children under the age of 14 years, given that on an average day in 2017-18, 29 per cent of children aged 10-13 under justice supervision were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.
- The Barreng Moorop model should be expanded throughout Victoria to provide a whole of-family approach to children in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in trouble with the law.
- To further strengthen Youth Justice Group Conferencing in Victoria, the Victorian Government should legislate for a model of Group Conferencing that is ‘opt-out’ rather than ‘opt-in’ to promote better uptake of the program.
- Culturally appropriate support should be available to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all youth justice facilities. This should include restorative approaches to conflict resolution within custody and therapeutic and rehabilitative programs delivered by Aboriginal staff.
- A specific housing strategy for Aboriginal children and young people is needed with a diversity of housing and support options, including alternatives to remand and step-down models to support children and young people as they transition out of youth justice custody or care services.
- Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations must be engaged and resourced in exit planning for all Aboriginal children and young people in care services and to provide services for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander care-leavers.
Further recommendations are outlined in our submission to the inquiry that draw on findings from our Justice Solutions tours to New Zealand in 2019 and the United States and parts of Europe in 2017.