Young people in detention speak out in inaugural inspection report

‘Phase 2’ artwork by young person during the inspection.

The children and young people in South Australia’s youth detention centre have spoken. Bullying, dignity, respect and the need for more cultural programs are some of the topics raised in our just released inspection report: Great Responsibility: Report on the 2019 Pilot Inspection of the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (now known as the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre).

The report is the outcome of our first official inspection of the training centre, conducted in November last year. It represents the culmination of two years of hard work from our team in setting up the Training Centre Visitor program.

The voices of young people and the centre’s staff make for an honest account of life in the centre and are explored in detail in the report.

Our findings delve into whether the rights of the detained children and young people are being met and to what extent the centre’s environment contributes to its objectives of rehabilitation and reintegration of these young people back into the community.

The report contains 10 wide-ranging recommendations on how the centre can better provide for the needs of the young people, including a review as to whether there is an appropriate balance between a model based on security and correction on one hand and one that supports rehabilitation and reintegration on the other.

We give our heartfelt thanks to everyone who was involved in the inspection, specifically to the children and young people and staff who shared their personal experiences about what life in the centre is really like.

You can view the report in full.

We have also produced a child-friendly poster and brochure that offers a summary of what the young people told us and the recommendations we made in the report.

Investigation calls for review of isolation practices in Adelaide Youth Training Centre

A troubling new report into the treatment of two young people in the Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) has highlighted the need for Youth Justice to review their use of isolation and how they offer rehabilitation for the young people detained in the centre.

The latest Ombudsman SA report which was released early this week has criticised the Department of Human Services (formerly Department for Communities and Social Inclusion) for its treatment of two young people in the AYTC by subjecting them to inhumane treatment, including extended periods of isolation and solitary confinement as a form of punishment for their behaviour.

In 2017, based on concerns shared by our office, the Ombudsman investigated the treatment of the young males (both 17 at the time) who were confined to their cells for more than 22 hours per day. The young people were not provided sufficient access to exercise, education, contact with family and experienced a lack of cultural recognition and support.

Training Centre Visitor Penny Wright has expressed her great concern these practices occurred and says that these are not isolated examples of the inappropriate use of seclusion and isolation.

“Isolation and segregation can be very, very damaging – especially to young people who have already experienced trauma in their lives – that’s why there are serious restrictions on these practices.”

“As the Ombudsman noted, rather than this particular segregation always being a response to the young people’s behaviours, their poor behaviour was often actually due to long periods of isolation.”

The Ombudsman referred to the views of the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatry that-

“Punitive approaches to the management of youth justice services… are unlikely to resolve the behavioural issues of detainees; instead, they serve to reinforce the sense of mistrust experienced by many children and young people in custody. Without a trauma informed approach to the management of youth justice centre, at-risk children and young people will continue to face significant obstacles in their paths to recovery and rehabilitation, and staff in youth detention centre will continue to face significant difficulties in managing children and young people in their care.”

According to the Ombudsman, “A functioning youth justice system should not cause the young person further harm or contribute to their reoffending. The system should not do any harm to a young person and young people should leave the youth justice system in a better life position than when they entered it. In my view, the youth justice system failed [these two young people].”

The investigation concluded the treatment of the two young people was ‘unreasonable, wrong, oppressive, unjust and contrary to law’. The Ombudsman made 20 recommendations, all of which the Department of Human Services has accepted.

Penny acknowledges the department has made some improvements since these events in 2017 and has agreed to make further changes.

“I do think Youth Justice has a new willingness to look carefully at their practices and make real changes,” Penny said.

“We know of a number of young people with complex needs in AYTC today who will benefit if the department acts on these recommendations swiftly. As part of my role as Training Centre Visitor, my staff and I will be monitoring the extent to which the reforms are taken up.”

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.


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.

Mental illness and FASD in SA’s young offenders

picture of young person in hoodie

Findings from a recent study by paediatricians and researchers from the Telethon Kids Institute has revealed the high rate of neurodevelopmental impairment in young people in youth detention in Western Australia.

Almost 90 percent of detainees suffered from some sort of impairment and over one third showed severe physical and mental impairment due to excessive alcohol consumption by their mothers during pregnancy.

‘We must be concerned about the risk that similar rates of neurodevelopmental impairment and foetal alcohol syndrome disorder (FASD) exist among young offenders in South Australia’, said Guardian for Children and Young People, Penny Wright.

‘This study highlights the vulnerability of young people, particularly Aboriginal youth, within the justice system and the importance of reliable diagnosis to identify their strengths and difficulties, in order to guide and improve their rehabilitation.

‘Young people with neuro-developmental impairments need early assessment and diagnosis, appropriate interventions and access to support.

‘Knowing if young people are affected by these disorders will enable our community to create more effective diversion programs when they come in contact with the youth justice system and better rehabilitation programs for those who end up in custody.

‘Diagnosing these disorders is a complex process requiring skilled practitioners but the investment would more than pay off in terms of diverting young people away from offending and helping those who do offend return as positive members of the community.

‘A submission made by the National Organisation for Foetal Alcohol Syndrome and Related Disorders to the South Australian Inquiry into the Sale and Consumption of Alcohol in 2013 called for all people entering prison or juvenile detention to be screened for FASD.

‘The submission noted that “Current cognitive behavioural approaches used both in custodial settings and in the community are ineffective for individuals with FASD and it is highly likely that this is a contributing factor in high rates of recidivism.”

‘Understanding the prevalence of FASD in youth detention in South Australia is a crucial step in ensuring effective interventions to promote support and rehabilitation.’
You can download the Guardian’s media release from this link.

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.

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre – snapshot 2016-17

3 October, 2017

The Adelaide Youth Training Centre (AYTC) is housed on two campuses in Cavan, north of the Grand Junction road.  One campus caters for female residents, younger male residents and young people in overnight remand and the other houses older male residents.

In 2016-17 there were 887 total admissions accounting for 388 individual young people1 of whom half or more were in remand awaiting trial.

Of the 388 young people admitted, at the time of first admission:

  • 23.2 % were young women
  • 21.9% were under guardianship orders
  • 48.5% were of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent2

The age distribution of the young people at the time of admission was:

ages in AYTC 2016-17

On an average day in 2016-17 there were 49.07 young people housed in the Centre.  This compares with highest daily occupancy since the Magill and Cavan Centres were amalgamated of 61.06 in 2012-13 and the lowest of 47.89 in 2014-15.




1 Some young people are remanded on several occasions or serve several custodial sentences in one 12 month period.

2 The proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait young people in the average daily population in of the AYTC in 2016-17 was 62.42% suggesting that their average stay was longer than non-Indigenous residents.

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

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.


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

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.

Do rehabilitation programs for young offenders actually work?

Professor Andrew Day

Professor Andrew Day

April 9, 2013

The answer is a resounding yes according to Professor Andrew Day, Professor of Clinical and Forensic Psychology in the Forensic Psychology Centre at Deakin University.

‘Analysis of studies from thousands of programs around the world show that good programs, well implemented, can reduce re-offending rates by up to 40 per cent.

‘If we don’t intervene we know that most young offenders will re-offend within two years.  Given the enormous social and economic cost to the community of a life of crime, programs to reduce re-offending are great value for money.’

Professor Day notes that in South Australia we have a well developed system of diversion which gives young offenders the opportunities and support to change their offending behaviour.

‘Offending behaviour is deeply rooted in the culture and the environment of the young offender.  Working not only with the offender, but with their families and peer groups offers us the best chance of success. Serious offenders, such as those committing serious assaults and violent sexual crimes can benefit from another layer of treatment that focuses on the causes of the behaviour, on the assumptions, attitudes and environment that triggers offending. This kind of intervention has shown to be particularly effective with some of our most serious young offenders.’

Professor Day notes the recent Productivity Commission findings showing that the disproportionately high rates of detention of Aboriginal young people across Australia are not improving. ‘Successes with Indigenous young people have come from developing culturally relevant programs and delivering them in ways that are engaging. We still have work to do in this area in South Australia.’

So, what would a good rehabilitation program for young offenders look like? ‘Well, there would be a range of initiatives that would ensure continuity between the services offered within detention centres to what is available in the community.  There would be a framework for assessing risk of re-offending and placing young people in the most relevant program to their level of risk, as well as quality assurance to ensure programs are implemented to a high standard. Programs themselves would place an emphasis on how young people think about their behaviour, and manage difficult emotions, as well as working with families or carers and other significant people as young people transition back into the community at the end of their sentence. Programs would be multi-faceted and integrate with and support other services such as education and vocational training and health services.  They would build skills and address attitudes and culture in preparation for the young person’s return to the community.’

Professor Day commented that the effectiveness of a program lies in the quality of its delivery. ‘A moderately effective program that is well run will produce better results than a more effective one that is poorly delivered. The most effective programs are those delivered by well trained and motivated staff with good supervision and support.’

And, of course, that are based on evidence.‘There is a sound base of knowledge to predict what will work in rehabilitating young offenders – and what will not. Increased punishment will not work, and may increase offending in some circumstances, and neither will increased supervision.  Boot camps, with no therapeutic input, have long been known to fail as a means of rehabilitation.

‘The good news is that rehabilitation programs can be effective even in settings such as detention centres.  Ideally we would like to provide the kind of stable and supportive environments that young people need to thrive in the community but for some young offenders detention can provide safety, stability, access to education and training and access to rehabilitation programs that can start them on the road to changing their lives.’

For more about rehabilitation and young offenders see Professor Day’s chapter on the subject in Casey, S., Day, A., Ward, T., & Vess, J. (2012). Foundations of Offender Rehabilitation. Oxford: Routledge Publishing. Other chapters on theories of crime and models of behaviour are also informative.

More research and opinion about rehabilitation for young offenders is on our Twitter feed.

link to twitter