Most Aboriginal young people will never be involved with Youth Justice, and the numbers of those who enter the system are falling, with fewer Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system in 2019 than five years ago.
Nevertheless, the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in Youth Justice is unacceptably high and is an ongoing concern.
The government is working with Aboriginal communities on a number of fronts to address the entrenched disadvantage faced by Aboriginal communities in Victoria. This includes the First People’s Assembly of Victoria that will be the voice of Aboriginal people in Victoria in the future treaty process.
Our work aims to ensure that Aboriginal young people are strong in their culture, connected to their families and communities, and are enabled to live healthy, safe, resilient, thriving and culturally rich lives. Our work also recognises that these strong connections, and traditional knowledge systems, are the foundations needed for Aboriginal children and young people to thrive, and that children who commit offences should be dealt with in a way that upholds their cultural rights and sustains their ties to family, community, culture and country.
To engender this response in Youth Justice, we are engaging with the families and communities of young people, as well as listening to the voices of young people themselves. The Koori Youth Council’s Ngaga-dji (hear me) project outlines a vision for Aboriginal children in Youth Justice that enables them to thrive. These young people have shared stories about love, trauma, strength, discrimination and healing that inform our work across Youth Justice.
Recognising the foundational principle of selfdetermination, we are developing an Aboriginal Youth Justice strategy, led by the Aboriginal Justice Caucus. This work includes an increased focus on decision making, accountability, governance and oversight, as well as specific initiatives to strengthen an Aboriginal community-led response. The strategy aims to strengthen young people’s connection to family, community and culture, and it will put in place the interventions and supports needed to reduce offending.
The Aboriginal Youth Justice strategy will be informed by, and will respond to, the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce, led by the Commissioner for Aboriginal Children and Young People in partnership with Youth Justice.
This will build on the dedicated culturally specific services, programs and supports currently in place for Aboriginal young people in Youth Justice.
Improving diversion and supporting early intervention and crime prevention
- Support the Aboriginal Youth Support Service, delivered by Aboriginal organisations and designed to establish a cultural connection with young people and their family and limit further progression into the criminal justice system.
- Continue the Community-Based Aboriginal Youth Justice Program, an early intervention and prevention response that provides culturally safe support for Aboriginal young people at risk of entering, or reentering, the justice system.
- Help Victoria Police reduce the number of Aboriginal children and young people coming into Youth Justice through the Koori Youth Cautioning Program, developed with community as part of Burra Lotjpa Dunguludja.
- The Aboriginal Youth Justice strategy will complement the ground-breaking Wungurilwil Gapgapduir: Aboriginal Children and Families Agreement, which aims to address the overrepresentation of Aboriginal young people in out-of-home care. This will benefit Aboriginal young people in the youth justice system, who have higher rates of child protection involvement than non-Aboriginal young people.
- The Children’s Koori Court aims to reduce offending behaviour and reduce the number of young Aboriginal people on custodial sentences through the participation of Elders and respected persons.
- Embed the use of Aboriginal cultural plans for Aboriginal young people as the first step in the case management planning process.
Reducing reoffending and promoting community safety by supporting children and young people to turn their lives around
- Deliver and respond to the Koori Youth Justice Taskforce. This taskforce held 13 forums across the state with community and government stakeholders and examined the cases of all Aboriginal young people on Youth Justice orders across Victoria between 1 October 2018 and 31 March 2019. This whole-of-system examination has been designed to:
- address issues that affect the cultural connectedness and social and emotional wellbeing of the young person
- review, update and strengthen the interventions and supports offered to young people currently in Youth Justice, across government and service providers
- identify and address the systemic issues contributing to the overrepresentation of Aboriginal children and young people in Youth Justice.
- The taskforce is being complemented by a Commission for Children and Young People statutory inquiry, which is hearing directly from young people in the youth justice system. The findings and recommendations are to be combined in a single report entitled Our Youth, Our Way, to be tabled in Parliament in 2020.
- The outcomes of the taskforce will also inform the forthcoming Aboriginal Youth Justice strategy.
Strengthening partnerships with children and young people, families and all services and professionals who support their rehabilitation and positive development
- Expand the Aboriginal Youth Mentoring Program, ensuring Aboriginal young people will have more opportunities to strengthen their connection to culture through community-led mentorship programs.
- Establish an in-reach Elders Support Program to strengthen cultural protective factors for young Aboriginal people and deliver a cultural and leadership program to Aboriginal girls and young women in custody.
- Maintain and improve the Indigenous Garden at Parkville Youth Justice Centre.
Investing in a skilled, safe and stable Youth Justice system, and safe systems of work
- Continue to support the Aboriginal liaison officers and a team leader who are available 24 hours a day to advise non-Aboriginal custodial staff about their work with Aboriginal young people, inform critical decision making about their care and directly support Aboriginal young people.
- Focus on engaging Aboriginal communities to encourage more Aboriginal people to take up a career in Youth Justice.
- Train our community and custodial staff in Aboriginal cultural awareness and how to deliver a culturally safe and responsive Youth Justice service.