Youth Justice in Western Australia
Jan 27, 2010
The aim of this paper is to advance debate about the future of youth justice in Western Australia. The focus is on how we can improve outcomes for the small number of children who are coming into contact with the criminal justice system. It argues that youth justice practice has been allowed to drift over the past decade, principally because of lack of focus on the specific needs of young offenders due to the subordinate status of youth justice within what is essentially an adult focused correctional bureaucracy, and because of waning commitment to the principle of diversion on behalf of the police. These two phenomena are interconnected. Lack of clarity regarding the role of youth justice has led to a decline in the quality of support for children and families at risk, which has, in turn, undermined confidence within the police regarding the benefits of diversion from the system. Diversion is simply about choosing the least intrusive option when dealing with young offenders.
Some key priorities for action include:
1. a renewed police commitment to the principle that arrests, remands in custody, court appearances and the use of detention, should be options of last resort.
2. a more rigorous approach to gatekeeping of the justice system. Effective gatekeeping could be ensured by:
a. a renewed police commitment to cautioning;
b. the introduction of ‘screening officers’ to review decisions to prosecute children and young people (Inspector level or above);
c. the creation of a specialist youth section in the police along the lines of Victoria, South Australia, and New Zealand;
d. firming up police orders in relation to decision making on matters such as the use of diversionary options (arrest, detention, bail, and so on) and giving these greater force by giving them the status of Codes of Practice, appended to legislation.
3. a focus on community based options for young people in danger of enmeshment in the criminal justice system with the aim of ensuring their reintegration into the community. Current local justice initiatives in Geraldton and Kalgoorlie have had considerable success in raising the diversion rate and reducing remands in custody. These initiatives need to be fully supported by government and expanded to other regions, such as the Pilbara and Kimberley.
4. removing youth justice out of adult correctional services and placing responsibility for youth justice with a human services agency (such as the Department for Child Protection). The best practice models discussed in this paper, particularly Victoria, show that it is possible to greatly reduce the use of detention and provide support to families without sacrificing public safety.