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Children’s commissioners present youth justice principles

Victoria’s children’s commissioners have signed on to a position paper that calls for a rehabilitative focus for youth justice.

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Victoria’s youth justice system has not been immune to instances of mistreatment, misuse of force, poor facilities, and excessive isolation seen in other states and territories, and most recently documented by the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory. 

Liana Buchanan and Andrew Jackomos have signed a position paper calling on governments to take steps to ensure the rights of children and young people in  youth justice detention are respected, defended and promoted.

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians have released a 13-point statement calling for measures including: 

  • adopting a trauma-responsive approach to address the causes of offending and support reintegration into the community  
  • urgently adopting targets to reduce the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in custody and ensuring their connection to culture and community
  • banning the use of restraints, force and isolation other than in extremely limited circumstances
  • improving staff capacity and skill, and ensuring the youth justice workforce is demographically representative of the children and young people held in youth justice centres
  • ensuring the treatment of children in youth justice centres is independently monitored and scrutinised.

If implemented, these principles will result in reduced reoffending by children and young people, bring Australian jurisdictions into line with relevant human rights standards and ultimately improve community safety. 

The need for a different system

The position statement expresses commissioners’ concerns about the number, conditions and treatment of children and young people in youth justice centres. 

The statement calls for approaches to youth detention to recognise complexities including experiences of trauma, neglect, family violence, and physical or mental health problems. 

On an average day in 2015-16, there were more than 900 children and young people in detention in Australia. More than half of these children had not been convicted of a crime. 

Despite making up fewer than 6 per cent of Australia’s children, Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander children and young people made up more than half of the youth justice detention population on any one night. 

A way forward

Many youth justice systems in Australia have been recently reviewed or are under close scrutiny. Now is the opportunity to ensure youth justice detention is genuinely rehabilitative, trauma-responsive and based on best practice. 

While youth justice centres are challenging and complex  environments, international initiatives have shown that change is possible. The use of force, restraints and isolation have been limited in New Zealand, where youth justice centres use non-violent interventions as a way to de-escalate crises and avoid the use of restrictive practices. 

Read the paper

Download the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians Statement on conditions and treatment in youth justice detention

About the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians

The Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) comprises national, state and territory children and young people commissioners, guardians and advocates.

The ACCG aims to promote and protect the safety, wellbeing and rights of children and young people in Australia, and to ensure that the best interests of children and young people are considered in public policy and program development across Australia.

Read the latest ACCG communique