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Isolation of young people undermines community safety

The use of isolation in Victoria’s youth justice facilities is counter-productive and risks entrenching rather than correcting poor behaviour, says Jesuit Social Services, following a new report by the Commissioner for Children and Young People.

The report into isolation, separation and lockdown practices tabled in Parliament today found that isolation was imposed at least nine times per day on average in Victoria’s youth justice facilities, rising to 42 times per day in December 2016.

“We understand community anger over recent violent and destructive behaviour by the children and young people in youth detention facilities, but we need to get to the bottom of why this is happening,” says Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“An effective youth justice system must maintain a focus on addressing offending behaviour and helping these children and young people turn their lives around. The use of lockdown is always damaging – but in particular, arbitrary lockdowns not connected with young people’s behaviour, such as those related to staff shortages, merely serves to create despair and resentment.

“The use of lockdown in these situations limits the opportunities children and young people have to access necessary services that are crucial to their rehabilitation.”

Ms Edwards says it is imperative to remember these children and young people will exit detention at some stage, and that the most effective way to create safer communities is to ensure they are ready to reintegrate into the community.

International youth justice expert Vincent Schiraldi, who presented at Jesuit Social Services’ National Justice Symposium earlier this week and previously ran Juvenile Corrections in Washington DC, says that children and young people in detention must be engaged with education and social interaction to build self-esteem and mitigate the anger and despair many of them experience.

“Young people must be held accountable for their actions and recognise where their behaviour has negatively affected others – but evidence from around the world shows a therapeutic rather than punitive response to children and young people is most effective in achieving this goal,” he says.

“This report highlights the extent of this highly damaging practice within Victoria’s youth justice system which will lead to children and young people being worse off after exiting detention than when they entered. Isolation must be used sparingly and only ever as a last, not a first, resort,” says Ms Edwards.

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

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