A focus on security over education in Victoria’s youth detention centres is hurting chances of rehabilitation and leading to reoffending.
That’s the finding from an auditor-general’s report into the cases of 40 young people in youth detention between January and June last year.
The audit found riots in 2016 and 2017 led to a “system under pressure”, with repairs reducing available accommodation and causing overcrowding.
Focusing on security impaired access to education and health services, the report released on Wednesday concluded.
“Young people in detention have not been receiving the rehabilitation services they are entitled to and that are necessary to meet their needs,” the report said.
“As a result, youth detention has not been effectively promoting reduced reoffending.”
At any time in Victoria, there are about 200 children and young people aged between 10 and 24 across the Parkville and Malmsbury youth detention centres. Aboriginal youth are overrepresented.
Of the cases examined, 19 young people who needed a management plan did not have one, something the justice department partly blamed on an “unstable custodial environment” at the time.
The auditor-general’s report also found there was a lack of justice department staff available to escort youths to or supervise them during counselling sessions.
Health assessments of new detainees were not always completed or accurately recorded, while Parkville College also suffered from inadequate record keeping.
Between 2013 and 2016, the college’s budget was insufficient, something acknowledge by the education department.
Funding improved over the following two years, with Parkville College receiving $16.47 million in 2018.
But the school has a 66 per cent student absence rate, and women and girls do not have equal access to education, the report said.
Justice department requirements that young women do not pass the boys’ unit – as it causes distractions and security issues, which means they cannot access hospitality, engineering and woodworking facilities.
Students are also not allowed to access the internet for schooling purposes, meaning they “miss out on important educational resources and life skills”.
The Department of Justice and Regulation began a rolling program of repairs in June last year to fix damage and fortify facilities to prevent future damage from riots and unrest.
Units were closed for the work and caused overcrowding, with isolation and admission cells used for bedrooms.
The young offenders were at times forced to share single bedrooms, adding pressure on staff.
Other times they slept in isolation cells for up to two weeks.
“Cells intended for isolation, medical observation and intake were stark, containing only a toilet and basin,” the report said.
“Young people sleep on a mattress on the concrete floor. At times, young people sleep in these cells for up to two weeks.”
The report stressed the Department of Justice and Regulation had implemented significant changes since the audit to help improve young people’s access to services and boost rehabilitation.
Liana Buchanan, Principal Commissioner for Children and Young People (CCYP) said the report was “an incredibly important piece of work” and none of it was a surprise
“Essentially this report confirms that at the moment Victoria is failing to provide adequate rehabilitation to stop young people in custody from reoffending, and ultimately – that’s not in the young peoples’ interest – but it’s not in anyone’s interests,” Ms Buchanan told The New Daily.
“Certainly, as the report says, there is some work underway already to improve programs and health services and the model for youth justice generally.
“This report really confirms how badly those improvements are needed.”
She said the approach to health, education and case management needed a coordinated and integrated approach.
Ms Buchanan acknowledged there had been rising concern about youth offending and policies and commentary had increasingly called for a tougher approach.
“I think we all need to pay attention to the best advice about what works. We need to understand that a tough on crime approach might seem popular, but it’s not necessarily going to work. It won’t necessarily make the community safer.”
A new youth justice centre at Cherry Creek in Melbourne’s west is expected to open in 2021.