ACCG Youth Justice statement

The OPG recognises there are systemic issues throughout Australia’s youth detention centres that can create an environment that is detrimental to those children and young people held in detention. These have been the subject of many media reports over the past few years, and include mistreatment, misuse of restraints and isolation, staffing challenges and overcrowding.

As a result, in November 2017, the Public Guardian, who individually advocates for all children and young people in youth detention centres in Queensland, signed up to a paper produced by the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians calling for a rehabilitative focus for youth justice and the introduction by all states and territories of measures including:

  • The implementation of a trauma-responsive approach that acknowledges many children and young people in youth justice detention have experienced abuse, neglect and trauma, and their behaviour needs to be understood in the context of this.
  • The provision of support and services that respond to the drivers of offending and promote the development of these children and young people.
  • Prohibiting the use of restraints, force and isolation on a child or young person, except when it is necessary to prevent an imminent and serious threat of injury to the child or others.  The use of any of these as a form of punishment should be prohibited without exception.

Why change is needed
The paper is based on the overriding principle that detention of children and young people should only be used as a last resort. However knowing that on any given day over 900 children and young people are held in detention centres across Australia, implementing measures such as these would likely see a reduction in re-offence figures, as well as bringing Australian jurisdictions into line with international human rights standards.

Additionally the paper also recognises that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people are vastly over-represented, typically making up over 50 per cent of the children and young people in youth detention, and additional measures need to be introduced to address this. These include the right of the child to exercise their culture, and an increase in the employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all roles and at all levels in the youth justice system.

A better system is possible

Change won’t happen overnight, but there have been a number of initiatives implemented internationally that demonstrate a rehabilitative approach to youth detention is achievable. New Zealand for example has a youth justice system that is underpinned by the use of non-violent intervention, and has legislation in place prohibiting force except in very limited circumstances.

At its core, the purpose of the OPG is to advocate for the human rights of all its clients, which is why we embrace the principles of these paper, which affirms that like all children and young people, those in youth detention have human rights that must be recognised, respected and promoted.

Read the paper

Download the Australian Children's Commissioners and Guardians Statement on Conditions and Treatment in Youth Justice Detention.