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Stay local – expert argues for a better way to help rural kids

Victoria needs to go local to keep young people out of the youth justice system, a group that provides free legal advice to young people says.

The $205 million allocated for the new Cherry Creek maximum security youth justice facility could instead be used for regional programs, YouthLaw policy officer Tiffany Overall said.

“It could be used for small-scale local youth justice facilities. We need local options for young people across Victoria,” she said.

“A lot of these young people come from Mildura, Shepparton, Gippsland … it would allow for continuity of school, work, positive supports and other resources that exist in their local communities.

“Building on these protective factors can significantly reduce the risks of offending.”

The Cherry Creek youth justice facility is planned to be completed in 2021 and will have 244 beds. Current facilities for young people are in Parkville and Malmsbury.

Ms Overall said young people needed options that allowed them close contact with their home communities.

“[We need] warnings not charging, summons not arresting, giving bail and not remanding,” she said.

“The presumption should be to support kids to stay in their families, communities and schools wherever they can be supported to safely stay there.”

Young people who are cautioned rather than charged are less likely to offend again, a study by the Crime Statistics Agency showed. The 2017 report said “diverting young people away from the formal court system leads to a positive impact on youth reoffending behavior”.

Ms Overall said using existing resources within local communities would keep costs of down. “Local options need not involve huge capital outlay,” she said.

The most effective way to break the cycle of intergenerational disadvantage is to develop place-based initiatives that support the community to identity and implement tailored solutions that respond to localised issues.

“We have ample evidence of youth justice models that reduce institutional violence, improve outcomes for young people in custody, and increase public safety through reducing the risk of reoffending.”

She said the Dutch model or the Close To Home reforms in NY showed what could be achieved.

Keeping at-risk young people in school, and wherever possible avoiding expulsions and suspensions, was also important to reducing youth incarceration, she said.

“Community hubs in schools, involving allied health personnel [social workers, speech pathologists, occupational therapists], supporting families when problems are identified” would all help, she said.

She said Doveton College, a community-focused school, was a good example.

“It offers a fully integrated wrap-around service model of education and care, including early learning, family support, maternal and child health, child safety, schooling and adult education.”

Jesuit Social Services spokesman Andrew Yule said keeping at-risk children at school was the best option.

“It is better to work with children who are at risk of not attending school than doing nothing until a child is older and drops out completely,” he said.

“One of the earliest risk factors for a child getting into trouble is when they disengage from their school and their education.

“It can be the first step on a path to anti-social behaviour and involvement with the youth justice system.”

There were 523 young people in Victoria’s youth justice centers in 2018, according to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.


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