Jesuit Social Services believes that prison should always be a last resort. We acknowledge that sometimes prison is necessary, particularly in cases of violent crime. But when a State takes the serious step of removing a person’s liberty, certain standards must be met to ensure the human rights of those incarcerated, to rehabilitate detainees and to reduce re-offending.

Our report – All alone: Young adults in the Victorian justice system – raises a number of concerns regarding the welfare and treatment of young adults in Victorian prisons, and questions whether these standards are being met.

The increasing number of young adults in Victoria’s adult prisons is of great concern. The mental and physical health of these young people when they emerge from incarceration has often deteriorated significantly, while the barriers to reintegrating with the community are high. Too many young people are reoffending and returning to prison.

It has been well established that young adults are especially vulnerable to the effects of detention. At the same time, young adults are more amenable to rehabilitation than older adults. Our justice system can – and must – do much better in transforming the behaviour and potential of these young adults.

Prisons have a purpose and present an opportunity: rehabilitation must be their focus, a chance to work towards a safer community.

We believe that the safety of the community is best enhanced by maximising strategies which reduce the potential for reoffending and promote rehabilitation. We must minimise harm to young adults in prison. Having served their time, they must be supported to lead productive lives. Just as importantly, preparations and support for transitioning back into the community must begin well before release. And, crucially, we need to have strong transparency and accountability to ensure that the treatment of young people meets their needs and upholds their human rights.