7 important facts about young people in youth justice detention in SA

AYTC residents going for a football mark

Each year, hundreds of young South Australians from 10 to 18 years of age pass through the gates into the Adelaide Youth Training Centre.  Each one has a story.  Combined together as statistics, their stories tell us who they are, why they are there and how well our youth detention regime is working

If you have two minutes, and an interest in young people in detention, take this quick educational quiz and learn seven critical facts about them.


What do you know about children in youth justice detention in SA?


 

The Youth Justice Administration Act 2018 – some devils in the detail

YJA Act graphic

The introduction of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 sought to consolidate the administration of youth justice and bring up to date with other relevant pieces of legislation to reflect best practice in youth justice.  It also established the role of Training Centre Visitor, now occupied by Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright.

Like much legislation, it is dense and detailed and, as is frequently the case, the devil is in the detail.

In this paper commissioned by the Child Development Council and the Guardian, Miranda Furness examines the legislation from the point of view of how it affects young people’s wellbeing and best interests, respect and dignity, vulnerability, care and cultural identity. She highlights simple inconsistencies, (what is a ‘youth’?) and significant omissions of definition (what is ‘wellbeing’ and what are ‘best interests?)  She considers how the Act relates to other legislation and to international instruments and draws implications for the work of the Child Development Council, the Training Centre Visitor and the Guardian.

You can read this concise and important paper on the Guardian’s website now.

Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2016-17

The proportion of Aboriginal children not placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle has continued to rise.

South Australia’s Aboriginal1 children and young people are vastly over-represented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2018 (ROGS 2018) and the trends are not positive.

The ROGS 2018 data on child protection showed that at 30 June 2017, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 33 per cent of all of those on care and protection orders and were 7.3 times as likely to be in out-of-home care as non-Aboriginal young people. In 2010-11 Aboriginal children and young people were 6.1 times as likely to be in care.

The proportion of Aboriginal young people placed according to the Aboriginal Child Placement Principle (i.e. with kin, within their community or with Aboriginal families), has been declining in recent years from 76.4 per cent in 2009 to 62.5 per cent in 2017, below the national average of 67.6 per cent. (See the chart at the head of this story.)

Though comprising 33 per cent of children and young people in care, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 38 percent of the population in residential care.

The ROGS 2018 data on youth justice services showed that in 2015-16, 58 per cent of the population of 10-17 year olds in youth detention were Aboriginal and that proportion has been growing in recent years. South Australia had significantly higher rates of detention of Aboriginal children and young people than the Australian average.

We present more data and charts about this subject from ROGS 2017 in the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17.

Download the Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2016-17 now.

1 Aboriginal community preference in South Australia is that the term Aboriginal is inclusive of Torres Strait Islander people, a usage we generally adopt in our reports

A Training Centre Visitor for young people in detention

Penny Wright is Training Centre Visitor in addition to being Guardian for Children and Young People. Work is well underway to set up the new Training Centre Visitor (TCV) Program established by the Youth Justice Administration Act, 2016.

At the heart of the new program is the obligation to listen to and promote the best interests of children and young people in the youth justice system. A major milestone is the commencement of Travis Thomas, the first Advocate to start developing relationships with residents at the two Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) sites.

The role of the TCV

The TCV will provide the South Australian community with independent scrutiny of the conditions and rights of children and young people in detention.  This is just the sort of independent oversight body’ proposed in recommendation 15.10 of the recent report of the Commonwealth Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse.

The TCV will promote the best interests of AYTC residents by mechanisms such as an advocacy service and ongoing visiting and formal inspection programs.  As is usual with independent positions of this sort, the TCV also can conduct inquiries about any matters referred by the Minister and can initiate an own motion inquiry about systemic reform.

Progress

With the recruitment of Advocate Travis Thomas to the team, work will prioritise dialogue with AYTC residents to advise them about the new TCV role and to build the relationship necessary to elicit and express their views, aspirations and needs.  Dialogue with other stakeholders will continue or be established, particularly AYTC staff and management, and the community and government agencies with an interest in youth justice.

The detailed work necessary to create an operational framework for the TCV Program is underway including the development of appropriate standards, guidelines and policies.  This will be done, as much as possible, to ensure that the TCV Program will work in line with international standards such as those that will come into force following Australia’s recent ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT)

Special groups

Importantly, the Youth Justice Administration Act directs the TCV to respond to the needs of three particular groups of children and young people . They are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are significantly over-represented, those who are under guardianship in the child protection system and those who have a physical, psychological or intellectual disability.

The TCV program will provide accessible, credible and culturally appropriate services that reflects and promote the views of AYTC residents about  their care, conditions, treatment and opportunities for development.  The program also will identify opportunities for improvements and promote systemic change in the youth justice sector.

The program will comply with Parliament’s requirement that all state authorities protect, respect and seek to give effect to rights set out in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and other relevant international human rights instruments affecting children and young people.  A focus for this will be reference to entitlements enshrined in the Charter of Rights for Youth Detained in Training Centres, also endorsed by Parliament.

Information sessions

The TCV Program team will host a series of information sessions in the coming months to provide further information to interested stakeholders.  If you would like further information or to attend, please email or phone Belinda Lorek or Alan Fairley on 8226 8570.

This story first appeared in the Guardian’s Newsletter for February 2018, downloadable here.

Rehabilitation programs are still effective at reducing youth re-offending

picture of andrew day and catia malvoso

Andrew Day and Catia Malvaso

In April 2013 we published an interview with Professor Andrew Day which discussed the importance of rehabilitation for those young people who find themselves involved with the justice system. It pointed to the research evidence that clearly demonstated that good programs, when they are well implemented, can reduce youth re-offending rates by up to 40 per cent. He argued that the most effective programs were those  delivered by well-trained and motivated staff who receive good supervision and support.

So, what has changed in offender rehabilitation since that time?

The evidence continues to accumulate that young offender rehabilitation programs can reduce offending behaviour, particularly when they target those who are at high risk of committing further offences. And yet there have also been changes in the last few years in how we think about rehabilitation. We have, for example, begun to move away from a focus on ‘treatment’ programs that view risk as a personality trait that needs to be modified, to more sophisticated approaches that consider how the risk of offending develops over the life of a young person.

We invited Professor Day, now at James Cook University, and his colleague Catia Malvaso at the University of Adelaide to explain how new insights are enabling us to think about and respond to offending by young people more effectively.

You can download their paper here.

Australia’s OPCAT ratification signals a shakeup in SA’s youth detention oversight

26 June 2017

The oversight of the South Australia’s Youth Training Centre will be energised by the Australian Government’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT).

This coincides with work in South Australia on Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 initiatives such as the Training Centre Visitor program.

Recent revelations of the abuse of young people in the Don Dale Youth Detention Centre and the treatment of other young people in detention centres across Australia, are likely to have been a catalyst for the Government’s decision to ratify.  Last year Australian citizens were shocked to view footage showing young men being tear-gassed, spit-hooded and shackled in the Northern Territory’s youth detention system. This triggered the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory and Commonwealth Attorney General George Brandis suggested the scandal may not have occurred if better oversight bodies had been in place.[1] 

Human Rights Commissioner, Ed Santow, said;

“When a person is detained in prison, a mental health facility, anywhere, they remain human…Protecting their basic dignity is just as important as it was before their detention.”[2] 

In 2009, Australia became a signatory of OPCAT, the aim of which is to prevent mistreatment and promote humane conditions in detention by establishing systems for independent monitoring and inspection.

But ratification is a much greater commitment.

Ratification will make the treaty binding on Australia, and will apply to all places of detention including prisons, police cells, juvenile and immigration detention and secure mental health and disability facilities.

Australian Children’s Commissioner Megan Mitchell said, ‘We must ensure that we foster a culture of care in our youth justice systems, that is grounded in respect for human rights and the best interests of children and young people.’

Implementing OPCAT will require Australian governments to permit visits from the United Nations Subcommittee on the Prevention of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment to any place of detention within Australia.  It will mandate the establishment of an independent National Preventative Mechanism and identify suitable independent inspecting bodies to conduct inspections of all places of detention.

Ratification will include a requirement in law to undertake regular preventive visits to specified places of detention.

The Commonwealth Ombudsman in collaboration with the states, territories and other relevant parties, will be in charge of coordinating inspections and oversight in Australia.

South Australia has already made a start in looking at protections for young people in youth detention with the passage of the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016 in and the adoption of the Youth Justice Administration Regulations 2016.  Among other things, the Act provides for additional sentencing options for young offenders, a charter of rights for young people in youth justice detention and directs the establishment of an official Training Centre Visitor scheme.

Taking on the role of Training Centre Visitor, Guardian Amanda Shaw says that the Guardian’s Office will be very involved with the OPCAT process in this state.

‘The Office is looking forward to working with the State and Commonwealth Governments over the next few months to ensure that the full range of OPCAT protections are extended to young South Australians,’ she said.

For a detailed look at OPCAT in Australia read the recently released discussion paper published by the Australian Human Rights Commission.

[1] Oversight may Have prevented Don Dale: AG, SBS 9 February 2017

[2] OPCAT:Australia makes long-awaited pledge to ratify international torture treaty, Alexandra Beech, ABC 9 February 2017

Statistics on Aboriginal children and young people in care and juvenile detention 2015-16

Children 10-17 yrs on care and protection orders in SA at June 2016 (n=3448)

South Australia’s Aboriginal[1] children and young people are vastly overrepresented in in state care and in detention centres, according to the Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2017 (ROGS 2017).

In 2015-16, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 33 per cent of all of those on care and protection orders and were 7.3 times as likely to be in out-of-home care as non-Aboriginal young people, allowing for their numbers in the population.

At June 2016, Aboriginal children and young people comprised 47.9 per cent of 10-17 year-olds in youth justice detention in South Australia while they made up only 4.5 per cent of that age group in the total population.

We present more data and charts about this subject from ROGS 2017 in the Guardian’s Snapshot of South Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Children and Young People in Care and/or Youth Detention from the Report on Government Services 2017.

Download the snapshot now.

1 In this report we use the term ‘Aboriginal’ to include people  who identify both as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander.

Go to your room! – the use of seclusion in youth detention

picture of young person in isolationIn some households at some times, giving a child time-out in their room may be a good solution.  It makes the parents’ point in a non-violent way and it imposes a modest and temporary penalty.  It allows time for emotions to cool. When the child returns to the family setting, there is the opportunity to revisit the issue and start resolving it, with luck, in a calmer frame of mind.

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To a child in one of Australia’s youth detention centres, seclusion (also known as separation, segregation, isolation or solitary confinement, depending on the jurisdiction) is quite different.  Most children entering youth detention are already traumatised before they arrive.  Many have a history of of abuse and neglect at home or being in state care.  They are further stressed by their contact with the youth justice system followed by their removal to a secure environment. Being put in seclusion, even where the removal is not physical, is another isolating act in the life of a child where deprivation and isolation may well have been the norm..

And the door is locked..

The people in charge of youth detention facilities can make a strong case for seclusion

The traumatised state of many detained children means that they will sometimes resort to violence. Removing them to somewhere where they cannot harm themselves or others can be the only option.  Some also argue that the use of punishments (often called consequences) is necessary to maintain order and to train the recipient into a better way of behaving.  This claim is on less solid ground. The literature of trauma shows it is more likely that forcible confinement will reinforce a traumatised child’s view of the world as a harsh, arbitrary place and, perversely, perpetuate the anti-social behaviour that is their response to it..

Most Australian youth detention facilities would describe their role in terms of rehabilitating children

They would do this by addressing the situations, behaviours and attitudes that led up to children being in detention. By combining disempowerment and deprivation, seclusion is a powerful punishment – but poor therapy. Seclusion should be used minimally and instances of its use should be diligently recorded and monitored to make sure that the wellbeing and rehabilitation of the child remains the central reason for its use. Where seclusion fails to address a child’s undesirable behaviour it should not be taken as a prescription for even more seclusion.  From a rehabilitation perspective, each incident that leads to seclusion can provide insights for skilled workers into the child’s state of mind and incorporated into a proper therapeutic response..

Seclusion can easily become a tool in the exercise of coercive power

This is most true in closed institutions, especially where insufficient properly skilled staff or unsuitable facilities can make it seem like the only viable option. Children in seclusion for long periods risk missing out on important socialisation, education and recreation opportunities. Strict protocols governing the use of seclusion, diligent monitoring and careful recording of instances of seclusion are needed to safeguard children in a situation where their rights and freedoms are already curtailed..

Where seclusion is frequently used it may point to a poor social climate in a youth detention centre

Detained children have little or no voice and so are easy to put at fault. If the widespread use of seclusion has failed to curtail generalised antisocial behaviour in a youth detention centre then one should question its effectiveness. There is the opportunity and responsibility to initiate new approaches drawn from a wide range of positive and proven ideas about the rehabilitation of child offenders from around the world.1

.So seclusion of children can  be part of a response to dangerous, disruptive or antisocial behaviour in youth detention centres but its widespread and inadequately monitored use can be an indicator of a poor social climate and anti-therapeutic practice that undermines the community’s goal of returning socially adjusted, law abiding children to society.

1 The Missouri Approach

Do Rehabilitation Programs ReallyWork?

Transforming Youth Custody in the UK

Youth Justice Administration Bill passes the SA Parliament

Youth justice in South Australia took a significant step forward yesterday with the passage through Parliament of the Youth Justice Administration Bill 2015.

Speaking to the Bill, the Hon. Zoe Bettison, Minister for Social Inclusion and Communities, said that the legislation sought to –

consolidate all youth justice administrative functions into one clear, concise legislative framework while, at the same time, contemporising other relevant legislation to better reflect best practice in this area, particularly in respect of the detainment of children and young people.

The Bill provides additional sentencing options for young offenders, for a charter of rights for young people in youth justice detention and directs the establishment of an Official Visitor scheme.

In anticipation of the passage of the Bill, Minister Bettison signed off on the Charter of Rights for Young People Detained in Youth Justice Facilities in December 2015. The Charter is based on a model Charter developed by Australia’s Children’s Commissioners and Guardians which itself draws from UN rules covering young people in youth justice detention and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

In 2015, the Guardian’s Office conducted 15 workshops seeking views on the content and promotion of the Charter.  A total of 149 people participated, including 22 residents and a version of the model charter adapted for local conditions was forwarded to the Minister.  The Charter is available for download.

download button

The Bill also mandates the appointment of an independent Official Visitor to report on the treatment of residents and the management of the youth training centre. The Bill directs the Visitor to pay particular attention to the needs and circumstances of young people in state care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and young people with disabilities.

The Bill now only awaits the Governor’s signature to become law.

 

Young people in state care are much more likely to enter youth justice detention

The just-released Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Report Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 2013–14 has confirmed the concerning trend that young people who are in state care are much more likely to enter youth justice detention.

Data from the participating states* shows:.

  • young people who were the subject of a care and protection order were 23 times as likely to be under youth justice supervision in the same year as the general population
  • 7% of those who were the subject of a care and protection order were also under youth justice supervision in the same year (although not necessarily at the same time), compared with just 0.3% of the general population aged 10-17
  • youth justice supervision was most likely for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander (ATSI) young people: ATSI males were 1.4 times as likely to be under supervision as non-ATSI males, and ATSI females were twice as likely
  • just over one-quarter (26%) of those in detention were also involved in the child protection system, which is 13 times the rate for the general population
  • the level of child protection involvement for those under community-based supervision in 2013-14 was also high: more than one-fifth (22%) were also in the child protection system.
  • the younger someone was at their first youth justice supervision, the more likely they were to also be in child protection in 2013-14

*This report drew on data from South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and the ACT.

This summary is drawn from the Office’s internal policy briefings. It should not be taken to indicate the Guardian’s position on the subject matter and policy implications should only be drawn from a reading of the full report.