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Foundations of Victoria’s youth justice system must be maintained

Victoria is at risk of eroding its progressive youth justice system by making changes to the successful dual track system, which allows young people aged between 18 and 21 to be sentenced to youth detention, warns Jesuit Social Services.

“The Government is treading down a dangerous path by dismantling many of the elements of our youth justice system that have previously led to the state having comparatively low rates of offending and re-offending,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“Recently we have seen a youth detention system at breaking point due to high numbers of young people on remand, plans for a ‘supermax’ youth detention facility at odds with international best practice and the Supreme Court rule that the detention of young people in adult prison is unlawful.”

The Victorian Government will today introduce a series of amendments, including the proposal for children aged over 16 charged with particular offences to have their cases heard in adult courts.

“A reform like this would undermine the Children’s Court, and set a worrying precedent by blurring the lines between ‘children and ‘adult.’

“We are also concerned that there was no exposure draft and no consultation with the community sector, meaning organisations like Jesuit Social Services who have 40 years of experience working with vulnerable young people have not had a chance to provide input based on our expertise.

The Government will also move to ensure young people aged between 18 and 20, convicted of particular offences, can only be sentenced to youth detention when exceptional circumstances apply. This sentencing option, known as dual track, allows young people aged 18 to 20 to be sentenced to a youth detention facility if a court believes they are vulnerable or have reasonable prospects for rehabilitation.

“Dual track has been a cornerstone of Victoria’s youth justice system, in recognition of the fact that young people’s brains are still developing and the response required to support rehabilitation is often best suited to the youth system. Research also shows us that young people who spend time in adult prison are more likely to re-offend on their return to the community than young people who exit youth detention.”

Ms Edwards says the dual track system supports judicial discretion by allowing magistrates and judges to make decisions based on the individual circumstances of a young person’s case.

“Judicial discretion is a crucial element of an effective justice system and our magistrates and judges are in the best position to make decisions about which system best promotes the ability for young people to serve their punishment and prepare to return to the community.

“Today’s announcement of a statutory youth diversion scheme will help steer young people away from further contact with the system, however we are concerned to hear that the police will have additional powers in terms of making decisions about which young people are suitable.

“We also urge the Government to work towards a youth detention system that recognises the needs of vulnerable young people, is appropriately staffed by qualified and well-supported people, and places an emphasis on education and rehabilitation.”

Media enquiries – Kathryn Kernohan, 0409 901 248 or kathryn.kernohan@jss.org.au