‘Is our youth justice system really broken?’ Helen Fatouros’ speech at the Castan Centre conference

‘Is our youth justice system really broken?’ Helen Fatouros’ speech at the Castan Centre conference

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Victoria’s youth justice system is far from broken despite recent ‘corrosive’ media coverage, according to Executive Director, Criminal Law, Helen Fatouros.

Speaking at Friday’s Castan Centre for Human Rights Law Conference, Ms Fatouros said that sensationalised media narrative on complex social issues such as youth offending invariably leads to short-term problem solving, and was counterproductive.

‘Characterising young offenders as thugs who are inherently bad risks the adoption of a simplistic “get tough” approach,’ she said.

‘It can lead to life-long stigmatisation, increased re-offending and the further risk of minority suburban youth becoming entrenched in crime well into adulthood.

‘Rather than responding with unnecessary, punitive and reactive changes to the law, we should be aiming for long-term outcomes such as reduced re-offending and strong inclusive communities that enable equal opportunity for prosperity.’

Ms Fatouros told the conference that despite portrayals of a youth crime ‘crisis’, youth crime rates had actually fallen significantly. Over the past five years, there has been a 42 per cent decrease in the number of youth offenders aged 10–17 years.

‘However, there are pockets of increasingly serious offending, and a small number of youth are responsible for large proportion of the overall offending. We need to focus our interventions more intensively on these more serious repeat young offenders, but we must do it in a way that maximises their chances for rehabilitation by breaking their connection to crime and negative peer groups.’

‘Alongside the policing and court response we have to work more on understanding the why, and how we will create hope and real opportunities that crowd out anti-social pathways. That requires close work with young people and community leaders.’

Ms Fatouros told the conference that the number of Indigenous children in the criminal justice system and in child protection should be one of the most urgent justice priorities across the country.

She also said that the point at which a child came to the court was an opportunity for early intervention, therapeutic and specialist approaches.

She called for a greater focus on investment in family health, education, community and socioeconomic equality. ‘It is an irrefutable fact that children who come from circumstances of disadvantage are heavily over-represented in the youth justice system.’

‘It is what we do before we get to the courtroom that needs more resourcing and urgent attention, because it is in the interplay between these contexts and the individual young person that most youth crime has its origins.’

More information

Listen to Helen Fatouros' speech.

Read the conference paper.

Media enquiries: Kerrie Soraghan, Senior Communications Advisor, (03) 9269 0660.

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