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Victoria to again be leader in youth justice: minister

Victoria to again be leader in youth justice: minister

By Karin Derkley

Young Persons 


Minister for Youth Justice Ben Carroll wants Victoria to return to being a leader in youth justice, and said he would rather young people didn't go to prison.

But if they do, he wants to make sure they come out better than when they went in, he told the Jesuit Social Services National Justice Symposium last week.

"I want to make sure we have an evidence based approach and that essentially how we treat them on the inside is how they will come out," he said.

He justified the government’s decision to proceed with the Cherry Creek youth detention centre on the basis that it would include an intensive intervention unit and have a therapeutic approach as recommended by the Armytage Ogloff report into youth justice.

"We need to get the recidivism rate back under 40 per cent," he said. "It's not rocket science. If you've got a therapeutic approach and wrap around services you will see people change their lives."

As recommended by the Armytage Ogloff report, the programs offered in the youth detention centre would be more intensive, longer in duration and more focused on the criminogenic needs of detainees, he said.

Also speaking at the symposium was Columbia Justice Lab co-director Vincent Schiraldi, who has been critical of the Victorian government's plans to build the 224-bed high security youth justice centre near Werribee.

Mr Schiraldi was responsible for overseeing the reform of the youth detention system in New York, which transformed the prison-based system into a community-based alternative.

“The expansion of incarceration (in Victoria) is deeply troubling,” he said, “especially because there’s not much support at a basic and elemental level for that. It saddens me to see that happen in Victoria which has had a fantastic reputation for thoughtful policy making.”

Paediatrician and adolescent physician Dr Mick Creati, who formerly practised at Parkville Juvenile Justice Centre, told the symposium that young people are being criminalised for impulsive acts.

"We know that judgment is the last part of the brain to develop, and on top of that, nearly 90 per cent of young people held in youth detention have neuro-developmental disorders as a result of traumatic life experiences."

The problem with incarcerating young people for these acts is that the younger you get into the system the longer you're likely to stay in the system, he said.

Those speaking at the symposium reiterated a call for the age of criminal responsibility be raised to 14.

Mr Carroll said he was open to any new idea that would help bring Victoria back to being among the leaders in youth justice in Australia.

He said his government was ensuring that the frontline workforce was properly trained and equipped to deal with the young detainees in their care, with the expectation that they would "have one of the most rewarding occupations in the state by turning young lives around and giving them every opportunity to succeed".

He also drew attention to the recently launched initiative Out for Good, where young people who have exited the youth justice system would be supported into a job in one of the state's “Big Builds”.

The program was founded by former Police Minister Wade Noonan and PricewaterhouseCoopers, in conjunction with the YMCA Bridge program, Jesuit Social Services and Melbourne Polytechnic.

“This will be a game-changer for young people who just need the opportunity and a male role model in the workplace who can show them a different way,” he said. “This will be an investment that pays for itself in reducing recidivism.”


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