Jesuit Social Services has warned the Government that its move to transfer 40 children and young people to a unit at Barwon Prison could be counter-productive unless strict conditions are followed and the arrangement is brought to an end as soon as possible.

The organisation acknowledged that a temporary solution is necessary in the light of recent damage to the youth justice facility at Parkville, but reiterated the importance of maintaining separate youth and adult justice systems.

“We understand community concern at the recent violent behaviour displayed at Parkville and Malmsbury,” said Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

“However, it is important to recognise that these young people will return into the community. It is in everyone’s interests to ensure they stand the best chance of successful reintegration. Putting these young people in an adult prison environment could backfire unless it is strictly interim and independently monitored.”

Contact with adult offenders is known to increase the risk of recidivism among young people, she added, while engagement with education, training and health supports is known to decrease this risk.

“The government must adhere to its commitment to keep the young offenders completely separate, and ensure appropriate youth-specific programs and facilities are in place. Solitary confinement, restraints, strip searching and unnecessary lockdown must also be avoided.”

She said those transferred must be treated in a manner consistent with their youth, with a focus on engagement and rehabilitation. “It is important that people are held accountable for their actions and understand the impact of their offending,” she said.

“Many of these young people are dealing with complex disadvantage, including mental health problems. To end their cycle of offending – particularly with this most difficult cohort – we need an intensive and tailored response for each young person, supporting and monitoring them to get their life back on track.”

Ms Edwards said the arrangement should be under constant review and the young people should be returned to purpose-built youth facilities as soon as possible. Using part of a facility designed for adults could never be a long-term solution.

“Together with others in the community sector, we stand ready to assist in the provision of appropriate services to ensure these children and young people are best-placed to turn around their behaviour. This provides the best opportunity to build a safer community for all.”

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