: Youth justice

Youth justice

Tony Foley

Youth Justice in the ACT is currently subject to two overlapping reviews. The ACT Human Rights Commission is reviewing Bimberi Youth Justice Centre (the detention centre for young people in the ACT) and the Department of Disability, Housing and Community Services is conducting a review with particular focus on the effectiveness of current diversionary policies and services.

The Bimberi Review (see hrc.act.gov.au) directs the Human Rights Commissioner to undertake a comprehensive human rights audit into conditions of detention at the youth centre pursuant to the Human Rights Act 2004. It also requires the Children and Young People Commissioner to inquire more broadly into the effectiveness of diversionary strategies and the ongoing monitoring of recidivism for detainees held in remand. Both commissioners are required to report by 30 June 2011.

The Diversionary Framework Consultation (see dhcs.act.gov.au/ocyfs) is more broadly based. The Discussion Paper issued for comment defines diversion as ‘any process that prevents young people from entering or continuing in the formal criminal justice system’. The paper considers more effective measures to identify the needs and the risk factors of particular groups of young people associated with their potential offending. New early intervention strategies are sought to inhibit young people from entering the criminal justice system. The consultation also considers various models of diversion where offending has already occurred.

At this ‘tertiary prevention stage’, potential measures for consideration include expanding current diversionary approaches such as cautions, warnings and conferences. Since the passing of the Crimes (Restorative Justice) Act in 2004 the ACT has seen conferencing of young offenders successfully facilitated by a government Restorative Justice Unit. However the Australian Institute of Criminology 2010 report Restorative Justice for Juveniles in Australia highlights that only 2 per cent of all alleged young offenders dealt with by police in the ACT are currently referred to conferencing. One possible outcome from the review is that the referral restriction to ‘less serious offences’ will be lifted to allow conferencing for ‘more serious offending’, while retaining the current exclusion of family violence offences.

Bail conditions are seen as a factor in the ACT‘s youth detention rate reportedly being five times higher than Victoria per 1000 young people. One proposal is to adopt a central bail assessment and coordination service for young people at risk of entering custody through bail refusal by police (or courts), modelled on similar schemes in Victoria and NSW. Also being considered is providing police and departmental officers with increased discretion so that minor non-compliance with bail conditions (commonly curfews, reporting to police and residency conditions) does not automatically mean return to custody.

A report making recommendations is expected later in the year.

TONY FOLEY teaches at the ANU College of Law.

(2011) 36(2) AltLJ 130
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