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Divert young people from the justice system Analysis

Divert young people from the justice system

VCOSS recently published its 2016-17 State Budget Submission: Putting people back in the picture. A series of blogs will examine some of the proposals in the submission.

The  State Budget Submission 2016-17 proposes the state government help keep young people out of prison by diverting young people from the justice system and ensuring they are not remanded unnecessarily.

Young people who offend have often experienced poverty and disadvantage. About a quarter of children on youth justice orders or on remand in 2010 came from between 2 and 3 per cent of Victoria’s poorer postcodes.[1] Similarly, in 2010 every child in Victoria who was remanded before age 13 was known to child protection.[2]

Many young offenders have disengaged from education and training. For example, a recent report found that 43 per cent of young clients of the Education Justice Initiative who were enrolled in school had not attended a single day in the last month. Nearly 40 per cent of young people of compulsory education age were not enrolled in any educational setting when they entered the program.[3]

Effective diversion programs help young people address the underlying causes of their offending by tackling issues including substance use, housing, mental ill-health, education and training needs. Diversion recognises that young people’s contact with the criminal justice system increases their risk of offending, that they have a ‘unique capacity to be rehabilitated’ and that their criminal behaviour is not necessarily a calculated action, but often largely a product of circumstances such as their age, maturity, background and social context.[4]

Diversion makes it less likely young people will reoffend. For example, 88 per cent of young people who completed the ROPES course for first offenders and 61 per cent who completed the Right Step eight-week program did not reoffend within two years, compared to only 43 per cent of young people detained in a youth justice facility.[5]

Diversion is also cost-effective. Community based diversion costs 10 per cent of less of the amount required to detain someone in a juvenile justice facility.[6]

The Victorian government can help divert all young people from offending by expanding the youth diversion pilot program that commenced in seven regions in May 2015 to make sure all young people can access it.

The Victorian Government can also prevent young people being remanded unnecessarily by reforming bail processes and legislation. Remand significantly affects young people’s lives, including disrupting relationships, creating stigma and increasing the risk of further criminalisation. While on remand, young people are also unable to access some services and supports that sentenced young people can access.

The number of young people on remand increased 50 per cent between June 2014 and June 2015 (from 43 to 65).[7] VCOSS members report that changes to the Bail Act that make it an offence to breach a bail condition, introduced at the end of 2013, is one reason for this increase in the number of young people refused bail. These breaches are often minor, not involving any new charges, causing harm or affecting community safety.

In late 2015 the Bail Amendment Act 2015 was introduced into the Victorian Parliament which includes comprehensive and welcome reforms to address concerns about this steep increase in the number of children arrested and held on remand for breach of bail conditions.

VCOSS looks forward to the passage of this legislation in 2016.

As well as increasing access to youth diversion, the VCOSS state budget submission calls on the Victorian Government to:

  • Tackle underlying reasons for crime by adopting a justice reinvestment approach
  • Legislate to enshrine diversion for young people
  • Expand access to bail support programs
  • Identify age-appropriate justice system responses for children aged 10-12 years, and raise the minimum age a child can be charged with a criminal offence to 12.

[1] Jesuit Social Services, Young People on Remand in Victoria, 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Kitty te Riele and Karen Rosauer, Education at the Heart of the Children’s Court; Evaluation of the Education Justice Initiative Final Report, The Victorian Institute for Education, Diversity and Lifelong Learning, 2015.

[4] Tiffany Overall, ‘Why diversion leads straight to crime prevention’ Insight 8: Crime and Justice, Victorian Council of Social Services, June 2013.

[5] Smart Justice for Young People, Diversion factsheet, July 2014.

[6] KPMG, Review of the Youth Justice Group Conferencing Program, prepared for Department of Human Services, 2010.

[7] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Youth Detention Population in 2015; Supplementary Tables, December 2015, p. Table S18.