‘Our Youth Our Way’ outlines vital steps to transform our youth justice system

‘Our Youth Our Way’ outlines vital steps to transform our youth justice system

Thursday, 10 June 2021

We commend the Commission for Children and Young People (CCYP) for its comprehensive systemic inquiry into the over-representation of Aboriginal children in the youth justice system.

‘The findings are essential reading and reflect our practice experience assisting Aboriginal young people with their legal issues,’ said Dan Nicholson, Executive Director of Criminal Law. ‘We support the strong recommendations to redesign the youth justice system in accordance with principles of Aboriginal self-determination, listening to the voices of Aboriginal children, young people and their communities,’ he said.

We support the Commission’s recommendation that Aboriginal community-controlled organisations be sustainably resourced to lead this work. We must prevent Aboriginal children and young people from entering the justice system, through raising the age of criminal responsibility and connecting children to early intervention, diversion, and therapeutic programs that operate outside the formal youth justice system.

90 Aboriginal children and young people told the Commission about their first contact with police and the youth justice system. 72 per cent were under 14 years at the time of first contact.

‘Raising the age of criminal responsibility from ten years old is an essential first step. Across Australia each year about 600 children aged 14 and under are jailed. Children do not belong in jail and the ongoing consequences for them, and their families can be devastating’ said Amanda Carter, Program Manager of Youth Crime.

The report provides more evidence of the systemic criminalisation of Aboriginal children and young people. In 2019–20, 15 per cent of children and young people under Victorian youth justice supervision (community and custodial) were Aboriginal despite comprising only 1.5 per cent of the Victorian population aged 10 to 23.  

The report shows that Aboriginal children and young people are less likely to be cautioned, and more likely to be arrested, to be refused bail, to be breached on bail, to be sentenced to lengthy community supervision and spend more days in custody than non-Aboriginal children and young people. It states, ‘Over-representation does not reflect the criminality of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system. Rather, it is the result of structural racism produced by the structures, policies and practices that underpin our social institutions and determine how they operate’.

‘The young people in this report bravely speak about the discrimination and harassment they face at many points on the pathway into the youth justice system, and once inside. But they also share their aspirations for a better future, for support, for family and for genuine connection to culture,’ said Amanda.

‘Our lawyers see Aboriginal children and young people remanded into custody for low level offending, despite the evidence that even short periods in custody have far-reaching consequences for children and their families. We support changes to Victoria’s bail laws to halt this concerning trend,’ said Dan.

The majority of Aboriginal children and young people involved in (or supervised by) the youth justice system in Victoria also have a background of child protection involvement, and many have experienced earlier disengagement and exclusion from school. ‘This illustrates the need for government to improve systems that currently contribute to the over-representation of Aboriginal children and young people in the youth justice system, particularly health, education and child protection systems’ said Dan.

We recognise the finding that more needs to be done by mainstream legal services to ensure that culturally appropriate services are delivered. Informed by our Reconciliation Action Plan and Aboriginal Services Strategy, VLA is committed to Aboriginal self-determination and cultural safety, as we work towards improved justice outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

More information

Read Our Youth our Way full report or summary.

Read about why we support increasing the age of criminal responsibility to 14.

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