Magill photo expo

This photo is just one of the dozens of remarkable images created by the residents of Magill Youth Training Centre in September.

Photographer and tutor Jeremy Watson said the images, produced after only a few hours of tuition and practice, were as good as those produced by some of his other students over many days and weeks.

‘We started out by getting the young people to pick out a couple of photos from a collection I brought and asking them to say why they had picked them and how they made them feel.

‘From the start the interest and enthusiasm were great.’

Very soon the discussion progressed to the genres of portraiture, landscape and close- up and then onto mastering the controls of the digital cameras newly purchased for the project.

‘After shooting we brought all the kids back and they had the chance to look at and evaluate their work on the monitor.’

In the words of some of the young people involved:

Taking pictures, it was fun.

I learnt how to hold steady the camera and how to use macro.

It’s not always about a front on photo, you can take them in all different ways.

It felt like we had freedom and fun with the photos.

I learnt how you can find good photos anywhere.

Program Coordinator at Magill, Julie Wright, said that it was great to be able to introduce a new activity for the residents and one which was so interesting and accessible to all of them.

‘Everything went off without a hitch, and since we bought the cameras staff are finding other ways to use them as part of unit activity and to document events.’

At the end of Child Protection Week, a photo exhibition of prints of selected pictures was staged for all residents, some staff and guests from the Office of the Guardian.

Viewers were very impressed by the originality and technical quality of the images produced by the young photographers while the residents were enthusiastic.

‘Now that it has gone so well’, says Julie, ‘we’ll be trying to organise more photography activities in the future and we are already looking for opportunities for some residents who’ve shown a real interest to continue their photography when they leave juvenile detention..’

View the Magill residents pictures collage in PDF.


A better way to manage young offenders

Public debate on crime usually goes something like this. Crime rates are soaring. Crime is worse than ever. The criminal justice system is soft on crime. The criminal justice system is loaded in favour of criminals. There should be more police. The police should have more powers. Courts should deliver tougher penalties. Greater retribution against offenders will satisfy victim’s demands.(1)

This should sound familiar. With some rare exceptions, it is the extent of the public debate we have in this state about what to do about crime. It is simple, satisfying and hooks into people’s fear and loathing. It has been used recently to argue a tougher line on young offenders.

The risk with a law and order response is that we may make a far greater crime problem when more young people are caught up in the criminal justice system and live with the label of young offender. Most young people grow out of committing crime and a no- or low-intervention approach is best. (2)

But what is to be done about those who are well and truly caught up in a lifestyle of crime? If I thought that longer sentences and more time in detention would work to reduce serious crime I would support it. But it won’t. (3)  It stops crime only for the period of time the young people are in custody. Imprisonment is no deterrence for repeat offenders and besides, they don’t expect to get caught. Boot camps, wilderness and scared-straight programs also won’t work. And doing nothing won’t work.

Targeted intervention works. Engaging those who are at most risk of re-offending, working with what puts them at most risk and working on what can be changed. This spells individualised plans and programs, delivered in a way that makes sense to the young person. If you think this sounds demanding and costly, it is. But it’s a sneeze next to the costs of a life-time of criminal behaviour.

There are successful proven rehabilitation programs which help repeat young offenders develop their moral understanding, to know what impact their crime has had, to learn to deal with problems differently, and to learn to think about and treat others as they themselves want to be treated. But these on their own also won’t work if the young person is homeless, scared, without money and hanging out with older offenders.

Returning then to the idea of incarceration, it seems an ideal time to work with offenders because, to put it bluntly, they are captive. The problem is that this is not their regular world so on release everything changes. The transition to living within the law in the community is critical to success. Indeed, the more that can be done outside of custody the better, including assisting with the very real problems of unemployment, low income, insecure housing and destructive family relationships.

It’s not easy being a youth justice worker. Everyone working within the youth justice system has to work with dissonant community expectations of punishment and rehabilitation. The problem is that approaches that rely on punishment don’t rehabilitate and instead increase the likelihood of a young person re-offending.

So, keep young people out of prison, wherever possible. Offer judges some real choices in sentencing. If young people are in custody, then use that time to help them learn. When they are released, assist with the problems on the outside.

If you want to read more about young offender programs see the Literature Review or Consultation and Recommendations from our Review of Programmes in Youth Training Centres.


1 Hogg, R and Brown, D (1998) Rethinking Law and Order, Pluto Press: Sydney cited in Cunneen, C and White, R (2002) Juvenile Justice: Youth and Crime in Australia, Oxford University Press: Melbourne

2 In this letter I am writing about serious and repeat offending. We do pretty well in this state with the one-off incidents of breaking the law through diversion strategies such as police cautions. One in five young people will face law enforcers within a formal setting and all but a few will not repeat the experience.

3 See, for example, Weatherburn, D, Vignaendra, S and McGrath, A (2009) The specific deterrent effect of custodial penalties on juvenile reoffending, Australian Institute of Criminology, report no 33

Let’s exhaust alternatives to jail for young people



Pam Simmons Guardian

With news reports of youth gangs and Operation Mandrake you could be forgiven for thinking that youth crime is on the increase. It is not. The trend is downwards. Over a ten year period to 2005 the fall in police apprehensions was 39 per cent. You could be forgiven for believing that young people who commit offences will do so again. Most do not.The implications are clear. Instead of addressing the problems some groups of young people face we would be adding to them by bringing them into the youth justice system for first and minor offences.


Most young people in South Australia are never in trouble with the police. In 2005, only 0.5 per cent of young people aged 10 to 17 years were apprehended by police. More than half of these did not warrant a court appearance.

For the most part, we have long accepted that we would treat young people as a special category when it comes to criminal justice in recognition of their underdeveloped moral reasoning.

Indeed it was South Australia that led the way in this country with the Children’s Act aged 10 to 13 are presumed to not be fully capable of understanding their actions unless a court can prove otherwise.

There is growing evidence that delays in moral reasoning will continue in to your early 20s and some jurisdictions have extended the principle of different treatment accordingly.

In SA there is a separate Court. The steadily falling youth crime rate is testament to a mostly good youth justice system.

That is why the recent proposals to change legislation so that young offenders are treated more harshly, including defining the offences when juveniles will face the adult court system, are so worrying. They are abrupt reactions to problems that have been with us for a long time and which, largely, we have handled sensibly.

We do well at steering first time offenders away from their second or third offence with crime prevention strategies, and cautions or family conferences following police apprehension. What we don’t want to do now is to counteract this success by widening the channel into the criminal justice system. Introducing anti-social behaviour orders, public shaming and mandatory sentencing could do just that.

Give someone a label, especially a young person, and they will live up to it. Becoming known in the neighbourhood as an “offender” or a “hoon” sticks hard and fast.

In the UK having an “Asbo” or anti-social behaviour order has become something of a badge of honour. Almost half the Asbos in the UK are breached at least once. A highly disproportionate number are imposed on black or Asian young people and the BritishInstitute for Brain Injured Children reported that 35 per cent of the orders were imposed on young people with a disability such as Tourette syndrome, autism or Aspergers syndrome.

The more vexing problem is how to stop that small minority, around 8 per cent, who persist in offending. Out of anger, it is tempting to punish and punish again. If your goal is to stop further crime however then brutalising young offenders, or any offenders, will defeat this.

Most repeat offenders are familiar with brutal environments and have experienced rejection, isolation, failure and cruelty most of their lives. Imprisonment can be a badge of honour, too, among some groups.

As many as 60 per cent of incarcerated young people are reported to be at risk of significant mental health problems.

There is little sympathy for young people who commit crime but it is not sympathy they need. We could instead offer, as other states and countries do, medium or low security facilities that focus on re-integration to the community rather than punishment.

We could ensure that our programs in detention centres deal with substance use, mental illness, post-abuse trauma and learning difficulties. We could introduce sentencing conferences that bring the young person’s family and community into the decisions about consequences and addressing causes of re-offending.

There are many effective alternatives to ongoing imprisonment. If we had tried these first, the call for longer imprisonment may be acceptable.

We have not and it is not.

Pam Simmons


(First published in The Advertiser 23 March 2007.)

Safe Keeping Orders in South Australia

As a result of growing interest and support for introducing safe keeping provisions in South Australia the Guardian for Children and Young People wants to understand better the views, risks and benefits of safe keeping for young people at risk.  In addition, the Minister for Families and Communities has recently requested the Guardian provide advice in relation to the recommendation made in the Children in State Care Commission of Inquiry final report that a secure therapeutic facility be established in South Australia.

This discussion paper has been prepared to elicit views on whether there is a need for safe keeping provisions, the concerns and risks in instituting safe keeping provisions and what can be done to address those risks. The responses will inform the policy advice the Guardian provides to the Minister and the Guardian’s position in relation to this matter.

A PDF file of the discussion paper Safe Keeping Orders can be downloaded.

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Review of programs in youth training centres

In July 2007 the South Australian Guardian for Children and Young People commissioned the Centre for Applied Psychological Research, University of South Australia to conduct a review of programs available to young people in secure custody. The report was completed in January 2008. There had been no independent review of programs in secure custody, although the need to develop youth justice programs was identified by the Families SA Youth Justice Directorate in their 2007 Training Centre Action Plan, the SA Social Inclusion Commissioner, and the SA Parliamentary Select Committee on the Youth Justice System which reported in 2005.

The report is in two sections. Part 1 is a review of the scientific literature on theories and practice in youth justice. Part 2 reports the findings from interviews with a range of stakeholders and focus groups with young residents. Part 2 also contains the recommendations.

Download the literature review

Download the report

link to GCYP twitter

Serious repeat young offenders

Among other statutory functions the Guardian for Children and Young People acts as an advocate for the interests of children under the guardianship, or in the custody, of the Minister for Families and Communities.  This includes young people in the secure care centres.  It is in this capacity that the following submission is made.

This submission is prepared on the basis of the Office’s experience in investigating individual matters, talking with experts in the area of youth justice, and our knowledge of policies and practice in Families SA.

You can download a PDF file of Serious Repeat Young Offenders .