Report calls for ‘re-imagined’ youth justice system to end over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people

News 9 June 2021

Wednesday 9 June 2021 – for immediate release

The stark over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in Victoria’s youth justice system can only be eliminated by placing them together with their families, communities and culture at the heart of finding and implementing solutions.

A ‘re-imagined’ youth justice system was a central theme of the Our youth, our way report tabled in the Parliament of Victoria this morning by the Commission for Children and Young People. The inquiry makes 41 findings and 75 recommendations the Commission says can be implemented within five years.

‘In making our recommendations, we have listened to those most affected by them, and those most at risk of continued inaction – Aboriginal children and young people,’ said Justin Mohamed, Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People, commenting today on the launch of the two-year independent inquiry.

‘We have also listened to families, communities, and the agencies that too often work in a disconnected way with children and young people, leading to fragmented and ineffective responses. Agencies must work together much more effectively if we are to achieve a holistic approach to the justice system that takes into account all the ways it touches and damages or nurtures the lives of Aboriginal children and young people,’ he said.

Together with the better coordination of all services working with children and young people, the report calls for measures to minimise police contact, strengthen legal support, create a presumption of diversion, improve bail, reduce the unnecessary use of remand, and shape a justice system that focuses on prevention and early intervention at every stage.

A central recommendation is that Victoria raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14, in line with calls by national advocates and the recommendations of the United Nations.

‘When we think about the many harms that can be done to Aboriginal children and young people through the youth justice system, we need to realise they can start as early as the age of just ten years old – including sending them on the path to ultimate entrenchment in the adult justice system. A moral nation cannot accept this profoundly unjust systemic reality,’ Commissioner Mohamed said.

‘The solutions we adopt must have culture at their heart, and it’s not enough that Aboriginal children and young people are connected to culture in a superficial way – culture is a necessary mechanism for change, together with drawing on the strength and resilience these children and young people bring with their families and communities, despite the ongoing impacts of dispossession, colonisation, the Stolen Generations and broader inter-generational trauma.’

Tabled with the report will be a possum skin cloak sewn from skins on which the stories of children and young people have been burnt.

The inquiry and associated Koori Youth Justice Taskforce project examined the cases of nearly 300 children who were involved in Victoria’s youth justice system between 10 October 2018 and 31 March 2019. Case planning was conducted for 69 children, and regional forums were held in 13 communities. The Commission’s independent inquiry interviewed 93 children, and met with 15 Aboriginal youth groups.

In 2019–20, 15 per cent of children and young people under youth justice supervision in Victoria (community and detention) were Aboriginal, yet they comprised only 1.5 per cent of the Victorian population aged 10 to 23 years. They are ten times more likely to be under community supervision, and nine times more likely to be in detention. They are particularly over-represented among children aged 10–14, and are at higher risk of serious injury and death from self-harm and suicide than non-Aboriginal children. A majority of Aboriginal children and young people in youth detention in Victoria have a background of child protection involvement.

‘We can change these confronting statistics and we must. This report comes at an historic convergence of reform in Victoria. From our First Peoples’ Assembly, the Treaty process, and the Yoo-rrook Truth and Justice Commission, to the development of a new Youth Justice Act, we are seeing new possibilities of justice for Aboriginal people, driven by the self-determination of Aboriginal people themselves. This report and its recommendations are another vital step in that process,’ Commissioner Mohamed concluded.

The Our youth, our way full report and summary can be downloaded from the Commission’s website.

Commissioner Mohamed is available for media comment.

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