Report confirms we must make better choices to stop children being locked up

Report confirms we must make better choices to stop children being locked up

Monday, 28 September 2020

The Sentencing Advisory Council’s (SAC) report Children held on remand in Victoria shows that too many children are being locked away before being found guilty of a crime, due to a lack of basic supports like a home to go to. It provides further evidence that imprisonment is not always a last resort for children in Victoria.

‘Being on remand means that a child as young as ten, is held in a cell while they wait for a court hearing, away from their family, school and social connections.’ said Amanda Carter, Program Manager of Youth Crime at Victoria Legal Aid.

‘Most children in the youth justice system have experienced serious trauma such as abuse or neglect, and many have mental health issues or cognitive impairment. Time spent “on remand” causes further harm and disconnects young people from positive supports.’ she said.

The report found a 106% increase in children held on remand in the last nine years. In 2017–18, 442 children spent at least one day on remand. Of these, two thirds did not ultimately receive prison terms. The cost of remanding those children who did not receive custodial sentences was $15 million.

‘We are choosing to lock away children who are unlikely to end up with a prison sentence, at a great cost to the community. Our lawyers see children charged and remanded not because of the things they’ve done but because of issues in their lives. And once they are in the system the obstacles increase and it is very difficult to get out,’ said Amanda.

The report adds to concerns raised by the Youth Parole Board around the disproportionate incarceration rates of Aboriginal children and children from culturally and linguistically diverse communities. ‘It’s deeply worrying to see the rates at which First Nations children and those from Sudanese, New Zealand, Māori and Pasifika communities are being placed on remand, away from vital family and cultural connections. It points to the need for structural inequalities in how these young people are treated by decision makers to be examined.’

‘Across the board we should be investing in the services and social connections children need to thrive. Early intervention and support for children to address underlying issues, can prevent behavioural patterns which can lead to offending. With regards to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, this means respecting principles of self-determination and being led by community-controlled organisations, who are best placed to understand their cultural needs.’ she said.

‘We believe police can play a big role in reducing the number of children on remand. If police are empowered to make choices other than arresting and imprisoning children, children have more chances to connect with services and supports in their community.’

‘Raising the age of criminal responsibility, would also be a clear way forward to stem the flow of young people locked away on remand. We hope this report will lead to changes in the choices we make as a community that lead to a child being charged and remanded,’ said Amanda.

More information

Amanda Carter is available for interview.

For media interviews please contact Alma Mistry, Senior Communications Adviser on 0418 381 327 or email alma.mistry@vla.vic.gov.au.

Was this helpful?