Youth in Prisons

Computers in Cells for Youth Detainees 17/11/23
Petition: Call for Computers in Cells for Juvenile Detainees
University of Southern Queensland Presentation
PrisonPC Report
Juvenile Justice Summit Agenda 4-5 May 2017

The current failures of the juvenile justice system are unacceptable. The rate of reoffending is twice as high as adult offenders. Nationally, 794 young people are in detention on average per day, which costs an average of $1,391 per child equaling $½ million a year. Furthermore, the overrepresentation of minority groups further demonstrates the inadequacy of the current system. Juvenile justice is an area of immense failure, expense, and national concern. 

Justice Action (JA) has a long history working with juvenile justice. It has represented detainees in Australia including youth at the OPCAT negotiations. JA spoke for youth in detention at the 2017 Juvenile Justice Youth Summit in Sydney and at the 2018 Indigenous Youth and Juvenile Justice Conference in Brisbane. JA has also worked with Mission Australia on a mentoring program for at-risk youth. 

Computers in Juvenile Cells
An ongoing project at Justice Action in advocating for juvenile offenders is the Computers in Cells campaign, which aims to remedy the lack of accessibility prisoners have towards education and counselling. Proposed at both the 6th Juvenile Justice Summit and the 2018 Indigenous Youth and Juvenile Justice Conference, Justice Action has emphasised how these areas are integral to facilitating their reintegration into society and reducing reoffending.

The project has been strongly informed and supported by international research. Key findings from Justice Action’s literature review exemplifies how access to technology is fundamental to prisoners and there has been evidence from other countries of its effectiveness in mitigating recidivism, especially in Scandinavia.

Peer Mentoring
Peer mentoring focuses on restorative justice to empower youth offenders. It allows offenders to develop a meaningful relationship with someone who has a similar background and experiences to them. Role models and the employment of young people who have managed to overcome their problems is key. Justice Action provided a mentor’s handbook to establish practical mentoring strategies. 

Peer mentoring provides juvenile offenders with skills and objectives they will use both in and out of prison such as: shelter, food clothing, health care, drug counselling, education, and job search assistance. Justice Action proposed at the 6th Juvenile Justice Summit that peer mentoring programs be introduced to the NSW Juvenile Justice System.  

Justice Reinvestment
Justice reinvestment effectively proposes that ‘prevention is better than cure’. It aims to redirect resources and finances to local communities to address the underlying causes of crime and contextualise the current and projected costs. Following a strategic review of the NSW juvenile justice system prepared for the Minitser for Juvenile Justice in 2018, Justice Action developed a proposal for justice reinvestment as a strategy to reduce re-offending for particularly Aborginial and Torres Strait Islander youth. 

Continued funding should not be given to juvenile detention centres; rather, the underlying systemic inequalities that youth offenders face must be addressed. Diverting funds that would be spent on building additional juvenile justice centres to evidence-based prevention and early intervention programs will lead to better outcomes for at-risk youth and youth who have been in contact with the criminal justice system.

Media coverage of incidents in juvenile facilities has provided substantial insight into the practices of youth justice policies and the experiences of juveniles in prisons. Without these investigations, cases of mismanagement and corruption would be unknown to the public, leaving authoritative bodies unchallenged in how they treat juveniles.

A key incident that garnered mass attention was the 2019 riot at the Frank Baxter Juvenile Justice Centre. One writer discussed how his visit revealed the absence of rehabilitative measures to prevent recidivism amongst juvenile offenders. He also detailed the attitudes of prison staff, stating “A lack of specialist offender units, escalating assaults and resultant poor morale within the centre they say must be addressed.”

Despite the riot involving weaponised items from within the prisons, the government continued to push for strip searching after the riot, stating a need to prevent contraband from entering correctional facilities. These practices are widely reported to not involve any protections for juvenile offenders, as highlighted in an article by the Sydney Morning Herald. Moreover, the Royal Commission on Child Sexual Abuse noted retraumatisation was prominent.

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