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Understaffing and overcrowding causing unrest in youth detention centres – LIV

Understaffing and overcrowding causing unrest in youth detention centres – LIV

By LIV Media

Young Persons 


Overcrowding and understaffing is contributing to unrest in Victoria's youth detention centres and putting the safety of young people and staff at risk, the LIV has said in its submission to a Parliamentary Inquiry into youth justice centres in Victoria.

Record numbers of young people are now being detained on remand as a result of changes to bail laws in 2013, the LIV pointed out in its submission. At Parkville, 80 per cent of detainees were on remand by end 2016, reversing the ratios in 2013 when just 20 per cent of detainees were unsentenced.

LIV president Belinda Wilson said that disproportionately high numbers of detainees on remand are contributing to unrest at the centres. “The transience of the population increases uncertainty within the centres and can result in increased anxiety and heightened volatility among remanded youth.”

High numbers of unsentenced detainees also shift the focus of youth detention centres away from programs and rehabilitation towards security warehousing, she said.

The overcrowding is being compounded by a trend towards using casual and inexperienced staff within youth detention centres who may not be appropriately qualified or experienced to be able to deal with potential conflict and difficult adolescent behaviour, Ms Wilson said. Youth justice workers have no minimum qualifications and receive just three weeks of mandatory training.

Greater casualisation heightens the risk that staff members will not turn up for rostered shifts, leading to an increased use of lockdowns and isolation. "The LIV has recently been advised by its members of an instance where only two out of eight staff attended a rostered shift," Ms Wilson said.

"Casualisation also undermines the opportunity for young detainees to form respectful relationships with staff," says Ms Wilson. “We know that building relationships with staff is one of the very important keys to young people’s rehabilitation.”

The LIV emphasised that any strategy to improve youth justice centres must aim to reduce the record numbers of young people who have entered detention in recent years, particularly on remand.

In the submission the LIV makes a number of recommendations, including more investment in early intervention, prevention and justice reinvestment and more use of diversion and other alternatives to remand and sentencing. It also calls for trauma-informed management, better responses to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, reform of behaviour management practices in residential care, expediting cases of young people refused bail to reduce length of stay on remand, and the use of evidence-based programs to reduce recidivism, particularly targeting high-risk, high-volume offenders.


Karin Derkley, LIV Media Advisor 

T: 03 9607 9389
M: 0413 014 902 


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