8. every young person needs

A justice system that respects and keeps everyone safe 

Icon of a person wearing a dress with arms outstretched, balancing scales.

“When I went to Malmsbury youth justice - well, at the start, at the court, I did not really understand what was going on at all, and even when the judge was talking to me the words were too hard for me to comprehend it. When I got sentenced I found it a bit difficult because most of the workers at Malmsbury did not understand my cultural background.... They kind of just looked at me as a full-time criminal, even though I had never been in trouble before.... Also before I got into trouble I did not really know any youth organisations or anywhere where I could go and get help until I got into trouble." 

– Young person presenting with YACVic to the 2017 Parliamentary Inquiry into Youth Justice Centres

the challenge

Evidence shows that children and young people with strong protective factors in their lives are very unlikely to end up in the justice system. These include safe and loving families, strong connections to culture, schools which keep all students engaged, good health and wellbeing, a pathway to a decent job, support to recover from any early trauma, and a proper say in what happens in their own lives. 

But at the moment, our community is failing to provide these good things for every child and young person, and we can see the results in our youth justice system. Children as young as 10 can be imprisoned in Victoria. Once there, they are at very high risk of suffering poor wellbeing outcomes and growing up to become adult offenders. Our justice system locks up disproportionate numbers of young people who have already been abused, unwell or marginalised – for example, 71% of young people held in Victoria’s youth justice centres have experienced abuse, trauma or neglect, almost 40% have been in the child protection system, and 26% show “issues concerning their intellectual functioning”. The justice system is 14 times as likely to place an Aboriginal young person on a justice order, compared to their non-Aboriginal peers. 

A review of our youth justice system found that only 1% of funding went into early intervention; most money flows into prisons and other late-term measures. This needs to change.

Victoria Police is making efforts to work better with young people but issues still remain. Young people of colour are still more likely to be stopped by police in Victoria than their white counterparts. There continue to be examples of Police members or Protective Services Officers using excessive force against, or unfairly targeting young people. 


future Goal 

Children are kept out of prison.

First steps by 2020

  • Raise the age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, in line with international best practice and research into children’s development. Instead of imprisoning children, build specialist, age-appropriate and culturally appropriate interventions in the community. These interventions must address issues like family violence, school engagement, and disability support.

  • Implement the recommendations of the Koorie Youth Council’s Ngaga-dji (hear me) project.

  • Commit to keeping children and young people under 18 out of prison, phasing out the use of youth justice centres.

Future goal

Until youth justice centres are phased out in Victoria, they minimise harm to young people and maximise improved wellbeing and rehabilitation.

First steps by 2020

  • Continue to implement all the recommendations of the Commission for Children and Young People, The same four walls: Inquiry into the use of isolation, separation and lockdowns in the Victorian youth justice system (2017).

  • Develop a standalone, specialist operating model for young women, with equal access to education, health services, cultural strengthening, mentoring, and rehabilitation services.

  • Learn from international models of youth support in youth justice centres, as outlined by Jesuit Social Services. Jurisdictions which show better results than Victoria in reducing recidivism and keeping young people and staff safe have common characteristics. These include: well-qualified, experienced staff employed on a long-term basis, properly renumerated and recognised as doing valuable, specialist work; stable, respectful relationships between young people and staff; prioritising rehabilitation, education, training and life skills; minimising use of restraint and isolation; fostering positive links between young people and the outside community; and using small facilities close to where the young people live.

  • Provide strong 'step-down' support for all young people leaving custody, including housing, education and support with employment, mental health and AOD. Ensure NDIS and other supports are in place for young people with disability.


Future Goal

All children grow up in safe communities that divert them from the justice system.

First steps by 2020

  • Commit to long-term funding for communities to design and lead responses to issues like intergenerational poverty, family violence, employment and education, disability support, and connection to culture. There should be strong focus on prevention and local partnerships, ownership and expertise. (See Smart Justice for Young People’s work on justice reinvestment, and Jesuit Social Services’ #WorthASecondChance.)

  • Sustainably resource Aboriginal community organisations to further develop localised youth support systems.

  • Continue to expand young people’s access to the Koori Court, including in regional and rural areas and for young people who wish to plead not guilty.

  • Strengthen support for children and young people who have been victims of crime, with prompt access to justice and community-based support to cope with trauma.

  • Commit to ending the high imprisonment of Aboriginal young people, young people with disability, young people who have been in out-of-home care, and young people from Pacific Islander, Māori and African backgrounds. Fund culturally appropriate programs that divert young people from the justice system and strengthen engagement with education, culture and community.

  • Design and fund diversion and bail support models that work in rural and regional areas. Present models of intensive supervision of young people can be very hard to implement in rural areas with less staff, and where young people are scattered geographically. Rural and regional communities need strategic initiatives to strengthen their independence and increase the number of qualified workers and services based long-term in rural and regional Victoria.

  • Respond to young people who use violence in the home, in line with the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Family Violence. Fund evidence-based, age-appropriate interventions for these young people and their families, supported by clear policy and practice responses from Victoria Police. (The Monash University Investigating Adolescent Family Violence project will be relevant.)

  • Abolish the public transport fines system for all young people under 18 years of age and cancel all outstanding public transport fines related to Myki ticketing issues and fares which were incurred while a young person was under 18 years of age, as recommended by WEstjustice.

Future goal

Victoria Police and all young people respect each other.

First steps by 2020

  • End racial profiling in Victoria. As a result of community pressure, Victoria Police introduced policies against racial profiling but there is still no mechanism to track racial profiling by Police members. We support calls to implement the Police Accountability Project’s recommendations for an effective racial profiling monitoring and prevention scheme.

  • Transform interactions between police and young people, including by:

    • Ending discriminatory treatment, and neglect and abuse in custody.

    • Building opportunities for positive interaction between police and young people, notably young people from migrant and refugee backgrounds

    • Partnering with YACVic and the youth sector to provide comprehensive training for all Victoria Police recruits to work well with young people, including youth-specific cultural and disability competency training.

    • Embedding anti-racist policies and practices across Victoria Police, with meaningful mechanisms for accountability and evaluation.

    • Properly funding programs that support young people who have been impacted by discriminatory and unlawful police contact and abuse, such as the Peer Advocacy Project.


Future goal

Young adults who have been imprisoned improve their education, health and wellbeing, and don’t reoffend.

First steps by 2020

  • Restore the 'dual track' system to its original approach. Dual track is for young people aged 18-20 assessed to be too vulnerable for adult prison, or to have high prospects of rehabilitation. It was intended as a real alternative to prison: a low-security residential precinct with a strong focus on education, training, life skills and rehabilitation.

  • Provide effective youth services for young people aged 18-25 who are in adult prisons. These approaches should be informed by findings from the Penhyn Youth Unit at Port Phillip Prison, and the youth services that have run at Ravenhall Correctional Centre. Effective and culturally safe approaches should be in place for all young people, including young women and young people with disability.


Future goal

Every young person in police custody has reliable adult support. 

First step by 2020

  • Fund YRIPP (Youth Referral and Independent Persons Program) securely for the long term. YRIPP uses trained volunteers to attend interviews with young people in police custody when a parent or guardian is unavailable. The program helps improve relationships between young people and police, protect young people’s welfare and rights, and connect young people to support services.

Young person standing on a rocky outcrop looking out over bushland into the distance.

How you can take action

Ask your local candidates these questions in the lead up to the 2018 state election:

1. Will they support raising the age of criminal responsibility to 14, to stop children as young as 10 being imprisoned?

2. What steps would they take to prevent young people becoming involved in the justice system to begin with?

3. What steps would they take to build better relationships between young people and Victoria Police?