CEO message: Youth Justice Bill – an opportunity for well overdue reform of the Youth Justice System

Multicultural young people are overrepresented in the youth justice system and we know that punitive approaches are not working so reform is long overdue.

With the release of the Victorian Youth Justice Bill this week, Victoria now has an opportunity to begin that long-awaited process of reform.

Victoria will become the first state in Australia to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 12, with plans to eventually raise the age to 14 – which CMY has long been advocating for. This is a long-awaited welcome step in recognising the needs of children. Evidence tells us that by addressing the root causes of offending behaviour at a much earlier stage, we have more chance of diverting young people away from the justice system.

A legislated scheme of warnings, cautions and early diversion will provide police with less punitive means of dealing with anti-social behavior at an earlier stage, thereby reducing young people’s engagement with the legal system.

Though supportive of the intent of the Bill, we will be seeking more information on areas of the Bill that require further exploration to understand the practical impact on young people. 

Our concerns cover the following areas:

  • Transport powers: in principle, it is a considered element but needing more information on the implementation.
  • State bail laws, including electronic monitoring devices: international experience and evidence shows that electronic monitoring does not work with young people. 
  • Threat to the dual-track system, ensuring vulnerable young people between 19-21 years can be sentenced to the juvenile correctional system.
  • Transferring 16 year olds to the adult system.
  • Expanded police powers to search without a warrant made permanent in some areas.

We need to focus on the fundamental rights of children to safety and care, not incarceration. Victoria has led the way with its dual-track system and it should not be dismantled.

The failure to reform the state’s bail laws to be fairer for children is a missed opportunity, and we have serious concerns about the two-year trial of electronic monitoring.

We are also concerned by the transport powers of police, which would allow them to take a child aged 10 or 11 into their care and control, if they view them as presenting a risk of serious harm to themselves or others.

There is also cause for concern with the powers to search without a warrant being expanded and made permanent in some areas, which must be very carefully considered as we know these search laws are disproportionately applied to multicultural young people from particular communities already overrepresented in the youth justice system.  

From my over 10 years as a member of the Youth Parole Board, it is abundantly clear that youth detention or adult prison is not always a deterrent to crime and in fact, the evidence shows that it can further entrench young people into the correctional system. 

The next period of consultation is an opportunity for us to provide evidence-based advice to the Government to ensure this Bill aligns with international best practice in the care and protection of some of Victoria’s most important vulnerable children and young people.

Carmel Guerra OAM