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Youth detention reports emphasise need for skilled, supported workforce

Reports of safety concerns for young people and staff alike at Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre have
highlighted the need for the youth detention workforce to be well skilled, trained and supported to
ensure the system can meet its primary goal of rehabilitation, says Jesuit Social Services.

“We are concerned and disappointed by recent media reports about assaults and other violent
incidents within a facility that is tasked with the care of some of the state’s most troubled children,
many of whom have experienced significant disadvantage including trauma and neglect, mental
health or substance abuse problems,” says Jesuit Social Services Acting CEO Sally Parnell.

“Detention harms children and must only ever be used as a last resort. A strong youth justice system
must emphasise keeping children supported to connect with family and school in the community
wherever possible. A strong, effective youth justice system prioritises restorative justice approaches,
to hold children and young people accountable for their actions and enable them to make amends
without unnecessary contact with detention.

“For the very small number of young people for whom detention is a suitable response, staff
perform critical roles in supporting them to turn their lives around and ensuring they exit the system
better off than when they entered. Of course, youth detention staff deserve a safe workplace like
everybody else, so reports that more than 600 assaults have been recorded at Malmsbury since
2016 point to systemic issues that are failing staff, young people and the broader community alike.”

In Jesuit Social Services’ recent submission to the Cultural Review of Adult Custodial Corrections
System, the organisation advocates for the recruitment of adult corrections staff from culturally and
linguistically diverse and Aboriginal communities to strengthen cultural safety within prisons, and for
staff to receive ongoing training and development based on best practice approaches to working
with people in prison, which should be funded from existing prison budgets.

“We want to see fundamental changes across both the adult and youth justice systems in terms of
the way staff are recruited, trained and retained. For example, we must strengthen the capability of
the workforce to deliver trauma-informed practices to address the complex needs of young
offenders who face significant barriers to inclusion,” says Ms Parnell.

“On our #JusticeSolutions tours of parts of Europe, the US and New Zealand, we observed the
importance of experienced and well-resourced staff in helping to build relationships with young
people which facilitate positive pathways and reduce the chances of re-offending, and that the most
effective systems are the ones where young people are supported to address their individual and
often complex needs. A safe youth detention system that focuses on setting children and young
people up for success when they return to the community means safer workplaces, less crime and
more cohesive communities.”

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

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