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Victorian Government’s youth custody announcement a positive step, say health, legal, community leaders

The Victorian Government’s decision to retain the Parkville Youth Justice Centre for young women and the youngest boys is an important step in the right direction, say leaders from Victoria’s health, legal and community sectors.

The Government’s announcement to keep the Parkville site aligns with a key recommendation of the 2017 Youth Justice Review by Professor James Ogloff and Penny Armytage, which strongly advocates for its retention given its central location and proximity to specialist services, the CBD and public transport.

All Victorians deserve to be safe and feel safe, and all children deserve a safe, healthy and loving childhood. Addressing the drivers of offending is the best way to build stronger communities. We believe more needs to be done in order to effectively reduce the trauma, discrimination and inequality that leads some children and young people to get in trouble, but this is a step in the right direction – and one that that is based on evidence.

While it remains our view that a new youth detention facility at Cherry Creek is not required, we welcome its repurposing to house boys between the ages of 15 and 18, with young women and boys under 15 remaining at Parkville. This will be more effective and age-appropriate than using Cherry Creek simply as a default option for all children and young people, no matter their needs or age.

We are pleased that the repurposed Cherry Creek facility will include dedicated mental health beds, a specialised health care unit and intensive drug and alcohol treatment. According to the most recent report by the Youth Parole Board, more than half (53 per cent) of the young people who presented to youth justice had mental health issues and 30 per cent had a history of self-harm or suicidal ideation. It is crucial that young people in the justice system have access to effective, age-appropriate services to hold them to account for their actions while supporting them to address the underlying problems behind their behavior.

Children are worth a second chance – that’s why Victoria’s youth justice system needs to be better. We have an opportunity to return Victoria to its previous position as leading the country in humane, effective and evidence-based approaches to young people in trouble in a way that holds them truly accountable for their actions, gives them hope to transform their lives, stops children progressing to a life of adult crime and reduces the number of future victims.
We stand ready to support the Victorian Government in making this a reality.

As experts with deep experience seeking solutions and working with people intersecting with the justice system, as well as their families and communities, we call on the Victorian Government to adopt and put into action the following key principles for an effective and humane youth justice system:

  • Incarceration as a last resort, including raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years of age
  • Focus on early intervention and diversion
  • Listening to the voices of people and their families
  • Developmentally appropriate approaches to children and young people
  • Addressing the disproportionate number of children and young people with a care experience who get caught up in youth justice and detention
  • Recognising the importance of culture and country for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
  • Connection to families, communities and culture
  • Thorough assessment and planning
  • Addressing offending behaviour
  • Addressing mental health, substance abuse and other health and wellbeing needs
  • Strong framework of support and accountability
  • Restorative justice approaches
  • Education and training focus that builds practical and social skills for re-socialisation, and builds skills for future employment opportunities
  • Holistic and appropriate wrap-around support services are available for those exiting youth detention in order to assist their reintegration into the community.

Signatories

Jesuit Social Services
Bernie Geary – Former Victorian Commissioner for Children and Young People
Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare
CREATE Foundation
Inner Northern Local Learning and Employment Network
Federation of Community Legal Centres Victoria
Justice-involved Young People (JYP) network
Professor Patrick McGorry AO – Executive Director, Orygen (The National Centre of Excellence in Youth Mental Health)
SHINE For Kids
Stan Winford – Associate Director, Centre for Innovative Justice
The Salvation Army
Victorian Aboriginal Child Care Agency
Victorian Alcohol and Drug Association
Victorian Council of Social Service
Youth Support and Advocacy Service
Youthlaw
Youth Affairs Council Victoria

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