Victorian response to youth justice incidents headed in wrong direction: HRLC submission

Victorian response to youth justice incidents headed in wrong direction: HRLC submission

The Victorian Government must address the underlying causes of damaging incidents in youth justice centres including staffing and lockdowns, the Human Rights Law Centre has said in a submission to a Victorian Parliamentary inquiry.

“Locking children down in isolation, staff shortages and failing infrastructure have all contributed to problems which have plagued youth justice centres,” said Hugh de Kretser, Executive Director of the Human Rights Law Centre. “Successive governments have been on notice about the problems but have failed to properly address them.”

“Building a new youth jail in Werribee is only part of the answer. The best facilities will not be safe unless they are properly staffed, well-managed and focus on age-appropriate conditions and programs that address root causes of offending,” said Mr de Kretser.

The HRLC’s submission to the Legal and Social Issues Committee of the Victorian Parliament highlights how Victoria has one of the lowest child offending and child imprisonment rates. Crime committed by 10-17 year olds has dropped over the past 5 years. It calls on the government to build on the Victorian system’s strengths, fix the weaknesses and abandon counterproductive responses.

“Victoria needs to abandon harsh responses including locking up children in the maximum security adult Barwon Prison. Mistreating children in an adult jail only makes things worse. It’s bad for kids and increases risks of reoffending,” said Mr de Kretser.

The HRLC’s Senior Lawyer, Shahleena Musk who worked as a youth justice lawyer in the NT, said, “What has happened here in Victoria is disturbingly similar to incidents interstate, including the Banksia Hill riot in WA and mistreatment in Don Dale in the NT. Many of the underlying causes are similar as are the punitive responses from government and the failure to accept responsibility. Victoria needs to learn from these experiences and avoid the same pitfalls.

“Many of the kids in youth justice centres have backgrounds of intense disadvantage. We have to understand and address that disadvantage if we want to improve community safety. We must not give up on these kids. We can help them back on the right path.

“We also need to address the factors leading to the sharp rise in kids being locked up on remand, waiting for their trial or sentence,” said Ms Musk.

The submission calls for better human rights safeguards in youth justice centres including a ban on solitary confinement, ending routine and random strip searches and better safeguards around the use of handcuffs and isolation. It also calls for improved independent oversight to comply with Australia’s forthcoming ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other mistreatment.

A copy of the submission is here.

More information

Hugh de Kretser, 0403 965 340