Victorian Auditor-General’s Office critical of youth justice system

The audit findings were based on a sample of young people incarcerated in the first half of 2017, some of whom were at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct. Picture: DARREN HOWE
The audit findings were based on a sample of young people incarcerated in the first half of 2017, some of whom were at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct. Picture: DARREN HOWE

THE Victorian Auditor-General’s Office has found the state’s youth justice system lacking in its efforts to rehabilitate young people and reduce re-offending.

“Young people in detention have not been receiving the rehabilitation services they are entitled to and that are necessary to meet their needs,” the public sector watchdog concluded.

“As a result, youth detention has not been effectively promoting reduced re-offending.”

Inadequate service levels and facilities were named as contributing factors, as was a ‘lack of complete and focused case management and needs assessment’.

VAGO also identified ‘a focus on security that impairs access to education and health services’.

“Failure to fully assess and provide for the needs of young people in detention misses a critical opportunity to positively intervene in the life of a young person who, given his or her situation, clearly needs support,” it stated.

In its 95-page report, released this morning, VAGO made a number of recommendations for the Department of Justice and Regulation, which manages Victoria’s youth justice system, and for the Department of Education and Training.

Incorporating education and program needs into case planning, and monitoring the development of case plans and the achievement of goals were among the recommendations.

Other included adopting a performance measure for school and implementing new reporting requirements to monitor service levels and demand.

VAGO also highlighted a need to review and facilitate young women’s equitable access to education and recreation activities, consistent with recommendations in the youth justice review.

Findings by Penny Armytage and Professor James Ogloff in July 2017 prompted a $50 million investment in youth justice system reforms.

VAGO’s report acknowledged the Department of Justice and Regulation was in the process of implementing ‘necessary’ reforms.

“Substantial work has begun to strengthen performance reporting and data collection, increase service levels, develop new service delivery models, improve case planning, and respond to the recommendations of the Youth Justice Review,” it read.

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About 200 children and young people are incarcerated in youth justice centres at any time in Victoria, according to the report.

The majority – 68 per cent – have been convicted of an offence, while about 32 per cent are on remand and awaiting trial.

Young people who had received a sentence spent an average of 58 days in youth detention from November 1, 2017 – January 31, 2018. 

Young people on remand were detained for an average of 25 days in the same period.

“A key aim of youth detention is reducing young people’s risk of re-offending,” the report stated.

“Addressing the underlying causes of offending, ensuring good primary and mental health, and enabling education are all steps that can reduce re-offending.”

INFOGRAPHIC: Primary health waiting times

The auditor-general’s office investigated how well rehabilitation services were meeting the developmental needs of children and young people in the youth detention system and reducing the risk of re-offending.

Its findings were based on a sample of young people incarcerated in the first half of 2017, some of whom were at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct.

The Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct accommodates boys and young men aged 15 – 24, and is is one of two youth detention centres in the state.

Parkville Youth Justice Precinct accommodates boys aged 10–17 and girls and young women aged 10–24.

The state government plans to open a new facility, Cherry Creek, in 2021.

INFOGRAPHIC: Issues affecting young people in detention

“While [the department] has made improvements in the short time it has been responsible for youth justice, it does not currently understand future service demand and needs, or whether outcomes are being achieved,” the report stated.

It said the department did not receive any data or other information from the Department of Health and Human Services when the responsibility was transferred in April 2017, ‘which could have assisted it to analyse service demand.’

Furthermore, VAGO wrote, gaps in the breadth of assessments completed meant some needs might not have been identified.

“[The department]’s planned expansion may be insufficient and further resources may be required. This is because the extent of need is currently unknown,” the report said.

INFOGRAPHIC: Causes of disruptions to Psychological Rehabilitation Team sessions at Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct

The report outlined numerous instances in which vital records about the young people in detention – from case plans to health assessments – were incomplete.

“[The department] cannot assure itself that all young people are receiving high‐quality rehabilitation services in line with case management requirements in the Youth Justice Custodial Practice Manual,” it stated.

Auditors also found numerous instances in which services were not available in a timely manner, with young people at the Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre Senior Site advising of difficulties accessing the Youth Health and Rehabilitation Service and feeling their health concerns were not always addressed.

VAGO’s nine recommendations have been accepted, with work already underway to improve services.

Minister for Families and Children, Jenny Mikakos, welcomed the report.

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