: Unique Youth Justice Report combines human rights and best practice

Unique Youth Justice Report combines human rights and best practice

Sean Costello, Brianna Mcgill & Gabrielle Mckinnon

In July 2011, the ACT Human Rights Commission released its Report ‘The ACT Youth Justice System 2011’ which includes an inquiry into the youth justice system by the Children & Young People Commissioner and a Human Rights Audit of the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre by the Human Rights & Discrimination Commissioner.

The ACT is one of two jurisdictions in Australia to have a legislative charter of human rights. The ACT Commission is unique in that it brings together the complementary roles of a Children & Young People Commissioner, Human Rights & Discrimination Commissioner, Disability & Community Services Commissioner and Health Services Commissioner.

In relation to the ACT’s only youth detention centre, Bimberi, the Report applies relevant human rights jurisprudence coupled with evidence-based international and national research on conditions of detention. This includes ‘what works’ in rehabilitation programming, and practical measures to reduce the use of force and strip-searching. Similarly, the team’s Review of the broader ACT youth justice system applied best practice in youth justice as well as the human rights legal expertise of the Commissioner’s staff. Each chapter of the Report begins by summarising the international human rights standards relevant to each element of the system. The Report also looks at specific education rights for young people in the youth justice system, and appropriate remuneration, training and qualifications for staff. These chapters also document evidence-based research for policy and service delivery improvement.

The Report contains 224 recommendations about many aspects of the youth justice system. Recommendations deal with issues including developing a bipartisan vision for youth justice in the ACT, diverting young people from the criminal system, providing better ways to involve families, improving education and rehabilitative programs for young people, and improving conditions for the staff who work to support these young people.

This Review considered the rights of all participants in the system including young people, workers, and victims of crime.

The structure of the Report outlines the essential components of an effective youth justice system. The first six chapters discuss important ‘big picture’ issues: human rights standards, engagement with community, a clear vision, a culture of performance, a skilled and supported workforce, and evidence-based practice. The next eight chapters examine the fundamental elements of a system including diversion, programming, vulnerable population groups, education and health services, and conditions of detention.

The issues raised are timely with the expected ratification soon by the federal government of the Optional Protocol to the UN Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which will require the Government to ensure regular reviews of all places of detention.

A version of this Report has been produced for young people, in a language and format that is accessible to them. Copies have been provided to young people living in Bimberi, and young people involved with community youth justice.

The government has set up a Youth Justice Implementation Taskforce, is currently considering the Report and is expected to provide a formal response soon. The Report received largely a positive response from a number of quarters, including the media, government and cross-bench members of the Legislative Assembly. The government has set up a Youth Justice Implementation Taskforce, and has released its formal response rejecting only 6 of the 224 recommendations. The Commission is hoping to play an active role in the further development and reform of the system, applying both best-practice and human rights.

SEAN COSTELLO, BRIANNA MCGILL and GABRIELLE McKINNON are from the ACT Human Rights Commission.

(2011) 36(4) AltLJ 281
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