Case highlights the need to improve diversion for young people

Case highlights the need to improve diversion for young people

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Young offenders in regional Victoria are missing out on diversion programs that enable their city counterparts and some adult offenders to get their life back on track and avoid a criminal record.

A recent case heard in the Criminal Division of the Children’s Court in the Central Highlands region highlights the need for statewide legislated rehabilitation or diversion schemes for young offenders.

Thirteen year-old Peter* was charged with the theft of a motor vehicle, driving without a licence and failing to report an accident to police.

An adult at low risk of re-offending would have access to a legislated diversion scheme and young low level offenders in metropolitan Melbourne have the option of the ROPES program, which has successfully cut down on re-offending.

After hearing Victoria Legal Aid’s submissions on interpretation of the Criminal Procedure Act 2009, the magistrate found that the legislated diversion program for adults could apply to young offenders in the Children’s Court.

Acting Manager Youth Crime David Benady said the finding was significant because it means that low-level offenders aged between 10 and 18 years who plead guilty should, where appropriate, be offered another form of diversion where ROPES is unavailable.

‘In our experience, young people have a strong chance of breaking out of the cycle of offending if they are given the right support. The vast majority offend once, sometimes twice, then "grow out of crime”.

‘Following the finding, however, police would not consent to diversion. Peter then entered a guilty plea because he wanted the matter finalised quickly and had found the court process distressing.

‘This unfortunately means that Peter now has a permanent criminal record, which may have a negative impact on his future, including his employment and travel options. It also makes it more likely that he will fall into a cycle of re-offending, with negative consequences for him and for the community.

‘The outcome may have been different if he had been living in Dandenong, for example, where he would have been able to participate in the ROPES scheme.

‘Had the magistrate been able to make decisions about appropriate diversion without the consent of the prosecution, sentencing could have been deferred while Peter participated in diversion – the outcome of which would have likely removed any criminal record and assisted with rehabilitation, if necessary,’ said David.

Victoria Legal Aid has recommended improvements to the way diversion is applied to young low-level offenders in our recent submission to the Department of Justice on Improving diversion for young people in Victoria.

* Name has been changed to protect identity.

More information

Victoria Legal Aid media release: Young offenders need early state-wide rehabilitation to avoid a life of crime.

For more information about ROPES, see the Children’s Court of Victoria website.

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