Senate debates

Tuesday, 10 December 2013


Juvenile Detention

8:17 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak about the appalling juvenile detention rates in Western Australia and how the coalition government has failed on a commitment to closing the gap, taking essential funding away from non-government organisations who are running successful programs to reduce the rate of juvenile incarceration. According to a number of reports, the Australian Institute of Criminology and the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People, WA has the second highest rate of detention of children and young people in the country, more than double that of Victoria. One hundred and twenty-eight juveniles are in detention in Western Australia, compared to just 63 in Victoria despite WA's population being less than half the size of Victoria's.

The rate of juvenile detention in Western Australia has been consistently higher than the national average since the early 1990s, yet evidence says the widespread use of remand is inconsistent with the principle of detention as a last resort for juveniles. This principle is also a key feature of the UN instruments that seek to protect young people who come into contact with the criminal justice system. What we know is that only a small proportion of juveniles in detention ever result in a conviction and ongoing sentence for a custodial order.

Periods of remand represent missed opportunities to intervene in juveniles' lives with constructive and appropriate treatment. This is particularly important for juveniles whose youth can make them uniquely receptive to criminal justice interventions. In 2011-12, the average cost of keeping one young person in detention in Western Australia was $624 per day. Contrast that with managing a young person in a community order: just $77 per day. Disgracefully, on 21 November this year—just a few weeks ago—the Department of Corrective Services in Western Australia reported almost 80 per cent of children and young people in detention in Western Australia were Aboriginal. This statistic is appalling. These are young people whose lives are being interrupted, their social development impaired and their educational outcomes seriously impacted. This is not closing the gap.

But the coalition government is choosing to ignore this evidence, putting this evidence about juvenile detention and the alarmingly high detention rates of Aboriginal youth, particularly in Western Australia, into the too-hard basket. The coalition thinks deterrence is about CCTV cameras. It is absolutely amazing that the coalition has just one strategy. Its solution is CCTV cameras. Why? Because it does not want to be held accountable for the human tragedy of lost and disrupted lives, of young people not reaching their full potential. It would much rather give funds for the installation of CCTV cameras. It is a quick fix. Cameras can be counted and reported on—an instant solution. But I say it is a solution which fails. The coalition has clearly turned its back on troubled youth and working on solutions which take much longer than it takes to install a CCTV camera.

During the election campaign, the coalition committed $50 million for CCTV cameras. It is detailed in their policy document 'The coalition's policy to tackle crime'. According to the coalition, this will deter criminal activity and give police assistance to find criminals. They did not tell the Australian community that this $50 million would be taken from kids. They neglected to let voters know where the $50 million would come from.

In Western Australia a whole range of programs are now at risk or will not be started because this government believes its investment in cameras is more important than an investment in children and young people. A Respect Skate Park program was to be delivered in Narrogin, where almost 30 per cent of the population are children and young people. This workshop-style program incorporates life skills and crime prevention into areas of interest such as skate parks for local youth. In Narrogin there is a lot of goodwill and interest from the community, and to focus this goodwill and interest funds are needed to support the town's skate park. WA's Commissioner for Children and Young People visited Narrogin just over a year ago and noted that goodwill in the community but also noted, after speaking to children and youth, that there were not many services for them. Overwhelmingly, children and young people told the commissioner they wanted more activities in the town, particularly activities other than organised sport. So the skate park was ideally suited to this rural community, but those funds, committed by Labor, have been diverted to CCTV cameras.

The David Wirrpanda Foundation were to be given funding for their Deadly Broz project, which would have brought young Aboriginal offenders together over two years in an intensive three-day-per-week program with trained Aboriginal mentors. Sessions would have included training in sport and physical activity, nutrition and health lifestyle, leadership and being mentored by Aboriginal mentors. But again that funding, almost $300,000, has also been diverted to the CCTV program. Despite the fact that between 2006 and 2010 Aboriginal young males in Western Australia were 25 to 34 times more likely to be serving a community based sentence than non- Aboriginal young males, the coalition government sees fit to defund this program. And what will happen to the team of social workers that the PCYC were planning to establish to work with prolific and priority offenders in the south-east corridor of Perth, a corridor well recognised by many non-government organisations working with juveniles as needing investment in families and children?

Save the Children's program in Kununurra, the only service for children and young people in Kununurra, is gone with the flick of a pen by this coalition government. The local business community had applauded Save the Children for its program, which took kids off the street and achieved great outcomes. But this is now at risk as Save the Children, with no dedicated funding, is barely hanging on and is trying to work out how to continue to provide support for this program. No amount of CCTV cameras will achieve what Save the Children has achieved working with children: doing real, tangible work and reducing the street presence of children. There will be an outcry from the community if crime and antisocial behaviour increase. Whilst cameras can capture this activity, cameras will never stop children from reoffending. Cameras cannot divert kids into programs where they are valued and learn new behaviours and life skills. Save the Children's innovative programs, like these, create a safe and positive environment for at-risk children and young people to come together and engage in pro-social activities in their own community.

The Australian Institute of Criminology puts it simply: diversion works. Diverting children and young people away from the formal youth justice system at the earliest opportunity is considered to be most effective in reducing crime. Unfortunately, this government has the wrong focus. Instead of trying to divert children and youth into programs which have the potential to change lives, the coalition just wants to focus on catching kids doing crime and then locking them up. CCTV cameras are not a solution in themselves; they are part of a suite of options. I urge the coalition to work with organisations such as Save the Children and know that children can be successful and contribute to society, not contribute to crime.


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