Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention

As we approach Reconciliation Week, take this short quiz to find out five important facts about Aboriginal children and young people in care and detention in South Australia.
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External monitoring, charters and conventions come together to improve youth justice detention

Events at Darwin’s Don Dale Youth Detention Centre in 2016 alarmed the community and shone a spotlight on the unsuitable treatment and environment in youth detention centres across the country.

Riots, like those seen at Don Dale and other detention centres, demonstrated how complaints and concerns among residents could fester unaddressed and escalate without appropriate and timely intervention. It is essential that the wellbeing of residents and staff in institutions closed to public view is assessed and monitored to ensure young people in juvenile detention, who are some of our most vulnerable, are protected.

Improving and strengthening the way places of detention are monitored is one way to prevent mistreatment. In jurisdictions across Australia there are processes in place to investigate and review detention facilities.

In South Australia, the Training Centre Visitor Unit (TCVU) conducts visits to both campuses of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC). Legislated in the Youth Justice Administration Act 2016, the Training Centre Visitor protects and promotes the rights and best interests of young people on remand or sentenced at the AYTC. This allows the visitor ‘to act as an advocate for the residents of a training centre to promote the proper resolution of issues relating to the care, treatment or control of the residents.’

The ability to make a complaint to an independent person, like an official visitor, is also one of the rights in the Charter of Rights for Youths Detained in Detention Centres.

In March, the TCVU released a report about its pilot visiting program and review of records. During the pilot, residents raised issue with the frequency of unclothed searches. By identifying these kinds of resident concerns and raising them with AYTC management and the Minister, external visitors can draw attention to degrading procedures as well as potentially preventing the issue from escalating. Readers may have seen a recent article in the Advertiser in which Penny Wright, the Training Centre Visitor, made it clear that she did not support the continuation of excessive and intrusive strip searching and methods such as ‘squat and cough’.

This preventative approach will be further refined following Australia’s ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). OPCAT is an international agreement that’s main aim is to prevent the mistreatment of people in detention.

Australia has three years in which to fulfil its obligations and develop an independent National Preventative Mechanism (NPM) to comply with its obligation under OPCAT. The NPM conducts inspections of all closed spaces and places of detention. Australia joins 88 other countries as a party to OPCAT, 71 of which have designated their NPM.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has been conducting consultations on how Australia should implement OPCAT.  The Commonwealth Ombudsman is also coordinating an assessment about how a ‘diffuse’ NPM model might operate across State and Territory jurisdictions.  At the moment it is unclear what Australia’s NPM will look like and what the involvement of existing monitoring bodies will be.

The TCVU will conduct its first formal inspection of the AYTC in the final quarter of this year. It will be informed by the work and information gained during the program of visits and reviews of records that have been implemented since mid-2018. This inspection process is being developed so it will be compliant with OPCAT requirements.

Around the world, jurisdictions similar to Australia are having success with models of juvenile rehabilitation that are radically different to those here. Much stronger independent oversight and monitoring will increase transparency and identify problems before they intensify. Success can also be measured by the way these programs challenge and force reconsideration of the largely penal model that dominates Australia’s thinking.

Some gaps closed but many remain for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

More than a decade on from the original report, the 2019 Closing the Gap report shows only two of the seven original targets are on track to be met.

Important targets around education, health and employment have expired before they were met, while other targets to halve the gap in life expectancy remain off track.

These shortfalls perpetuate Aboriginal disadvantage and contribute directly and indirectly to the high proportion of Aboriginal children and young people coming into state care and coming into contact with the youth justice system.

What’s been achieved?

The target to see 95 per cent of all Indigenous four year olds enrolled in early education by 2025 is on track to be met. In 2017, South Australia had education enrolments about the 95 per cent benchmark with universal enrolments.

Halving the gap in Year 12 attainment, or equivalent, by 2020 is on track to be met. Nationally, the gap has decreased from 36 percentage points in 2006 to 24 percentage points in 2016.

What’s remains to be done?

A number of the original targets expired last year, on the tenth anniversary of Closing the Gap. These included a target to halve the gap in child mortality. While the rate has declined by 10 per cent since 2008, the gap has widened because the non-Indigenous rate has declined faster.

The national school attendance rate was around 82 per cent for Indigenous students in 2018. There has been no improvement in school attendance rates for indigenous students in South Australia in the last four years. While there has been improvement, targets to close the gap in literacy and numeracy have also not been met.

Large gaps remain between the life expectancy of Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The target to close the gap within a generation, by 2031, is also not on track to be met.

Targets to halve the gap in employment outcomes between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians within a decade have not been met. The gap has not only not narrowed, but it has widened.

After 11 years of Closing the Gap significant gaps remain. Ambitious targets were set but many observers have noted that the failure to work closely with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community and to make the necessary structural, systemic changes have led to a largely disappointing result.

What’s next?

The latest Closing the Gap report promises a new collaborative approach.

Last year, the council of Australian Governments (COAG) developed Closing the Gap Refresh. It commits the Commonwealth Government to creating a partnership with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representatives to ensure the next phase is driven by principles of empowerment and self-determination.

Indigenous advocates have pushed for new targets to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in out-of-home care.

Nationally, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are ten times more likely to enter out-of-home care than their non-Indigenous counterparts. It’s predicted the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in out-of-home care will more than triple over the next 20 years without intervention.

In South Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are seven times more likely to be in care than the same age group in the general population and Draft Closing the Gap Refresh Targets mandate targets that will see significant and sustained program to eliminate the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out-of-home care.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are still over-represented in the justice system, making up more than 50 per cent of young Australians in detention. Another state led target is to reduce the rate of young people in detention by 11 to 19 per cent by 2028.

Under the new framework, different levels of government are held accountable and responsible for different priorities. State and territory governments will also be required to make annual reports on its Closing the Gap strategies and progress.

The Productivity Commission’s Indigenous Commissioner will also independently review progress every three years.

There is still much of the new strategy that is uncertain as federal, state and territory governments finalise the draft targets and develop appropriate responses. For example, South Australian government released its Aboriginal education strategy late last year to increase outcomes for Aboriginal students but it remains to be seen how it will work to meet these targets to close the gap of young people in out-of-home care and youth justice.

Doli incapax – an odd word with profound significance for South Australian children

The minimum age of criminal responsibility in South Australia is 10 years old. If you are a child under 10 years old in South Australia, you are deemed to be incapable of committing a crime – you are presumed not intellectually and morally developed enough to conceive of the difference between right and wrong.  If you are between 10 and 14 and are charged with an offence, it is up to the prosecution to prove that, at the time of the offence, you understood what you did was seriously wrong, and not just naughty.  If they can’t prove that, you are presumed to be doli incapax (from the Latin ‘incapable of evil’).

Such an obligation on the prosecution is designed to result in a graduated response across an age range where the court can take into account the considerable variation in intellectual and emotional maturity in the young people who appear before it.

Barrister Marie Shaw QC and lawyer Brittany Armstrong presented a paper on doli incapax at the Law Society in January. This was motivated by their experiences representing 10 to 14 year olds in the Youth Court and, in many cases, the protection of doli incapax was not being properly utilised. As young people in care, and particularly those in residential care, are so over-represented in our youth justice system, this particularly affects them.

In a number of cases known to advocates within the Guardian and Training Centre Visitor’s office, doli incapax was not presumed, and in at least one instance the defence was put to the task of proving doli incapax.

If this is to be a safeguard for children charged with criminal offences then it should be considered from the time of police interview, to bail applications, and if a 10 to 14 year-old comes before a court.  It is currently not. The reasons it is not are not entirely clear but could include a lack of knowledge by the child or their advocates of this presumption, the strong desire to ‘plead out’ by a child or their advocate in order to resolve the matter more quickly, or other interactions between the child protection and youth justice systems not yet understood.

By no means is this presumption of doli incapax a ‘get out of jail free card’. Each time a child or young person comes before the youth justice system, they are less likely to be presumed doli incapax.

The implications for children

Research shows that the younger a child is when they come into contact with the justice system, the more likely they are to have sustained contact.

The developmental maturity of children in this age group also means they are often insufficiently capable of engaging in youth justice processes. Children may be more likely to accept a plea offer, give false confessions or not keep up with court proceedings.

Keeping younger people out of the youth justice system would also mitigate the over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander children in youth justice.

International comparisons

Australia’s age of criminal responsibility is comparatively low compared with other countries around the world. The United Nations has proclaimed that the absolute minimum age should be 12 years old with that recommendation likely to increase to 14. The UN has called on Australia to raise the age of criminal responsibility, bringing it in line with its obligations under the Convention of the Rights of the Child.

In 1998, England and Wales abolished the principle of doli incapax. Like Australia, the age of criminal responsibility is 10 years old. In turn, any child over the age of nine can be arrested, interviewed by police, charged and then convicted of a crime and receive a criminal record. There are calls for both nations to raise the age of criminal responsibility.

In line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada raised the minimum age from 10 to 12 years, but also removed the presumption of doli incapax. This leaves children aged 12 and 13 vulnerable.

Similarly, Ireland raised the minimum aged from 10 to 12 years old, but it has also maintained the doctrine of doli incapax.

Other countries with the minimum age for criminal responsibility higher than 14 don’t recognise the presumption of doli incapax. For example, Luxembourg, Colombia, Ecuador and Uruguay has set the age of criminal responsibility at 18.

While many have argued that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 12, children aged 13 to 14 should still be protected by the principles of doli incapax.

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 2016 – 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