Commissioner for Children calls for justice
Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People, Michelle Scott. Image – http://www.perthnow.com.au
Western Australian Commissioner for Children and Young People has called for the “urgent need” for reform in the juvenile justice system. WA detains children, not only at the nation’s highest rate but for its Aboriginal youth detains them among the world’s highest rates.
Commissioner Scott said that there should great concern “that the number of young people in detention in WA continues to remain higher than in most other States, and despite clear signs of stress in the system, it has taken a serious incident at the Banksia Hill detention centre this year to bring the major deficiencies to attention.”
Recently, WA’s Inspector of Custodial Services, Professor Neil Morgan made 35 recommendations to address underlying issues he identified which has to what he described as a “tinderbox” environment.
Professor Morgan has recommended the need for a standalone department to engage with the complexities of youth justice.
Commissioner Scott said that WA “remains the only State that manages youth justice and detention through the adult corrections department.”
“We should start to think about how a designated youth justice services agency could work to reduce offending and deliver better results for the community as well as children and young people.”
“Essentially, a standalone agency focused entirely on youth justice should be better placed to consider what national research tells us works and to coordinate the delivery of holistic and comprehensive services to young people.”
Commissioner Scott reiterated Professor Morgan’s findings “that there must be an urgent focus on rehabilitation and the provision of education, skills training and counselling services that help the young detainees return to the community and reduce their risk of re-offending.”
She said the “needs of Aboriginal young people” must be met.
Commissioner Scott said that many crucial programs are missing in the areas of mental health, drug and alcohol education and in guiding youth to employment.
“Such programs should be designed to support Aboriginal children and young people who represent between 60 per cent and 80 per cent of the youth detention population in WA.”
“It is critical we focus on mental health rehabilitation. My 2011 inquiry into the mental health and well-being of children and young people found that between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of young people in detention have a serious mental health problem, yet little is being done to support children and young people who come into contact with the justice system.”
Commissioner Scott said that at WA’s only juvenile detention centre, Banksia Hill, that psychiatric and psychology services “are negligible and WA still does not have dedicated forensic mental health facility for young people.”
“Other rehabilitaton services such as education and work skills training are less likely to be effective if underlying mental health problems are not also addressed.”
Commissioner Scott pointed to the failure to return the Banksia Hill youth in Hakea adult prison back to Banksia Hill. “Right now, the highest priority must go to the prompt repair and upgrade of Banksia HIll detention centre to allow the safe return of about 100 young people still detained at the adult Hakea Prison.”
“It is now seven months, more than 200 days, since the young people were transferred to Hakea and there is no evidence of a comprehensive plan for their return.”