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Youth justice systems, policies and programs

Criminal responsibility commences at age 10. In Victoria, the maximum age at which young people may appear in a Children's Court is 17 years at the time of the offence. In addition, young people aged 18-20 may be sentenced to detention in a youth justice centre (rather than an adult prison) where the court deems appropriate.

Key policy directions

Key policy directions in youth justice in Victoria include: 

  • Diverting young people, where appropriate, from the justice system, minimising further progression into the system, promoting opportunities for rehabilitation and contributing to the reduction of crime in the community.
  • Hold young people to account for their offending while ensuring they are supported to develop pro-social behaviour and effectively participate in the community.
  • Provide service responses that are evidence based and appropriate to the developmental needs of children and young people.
  • Undertake thorough assessment of risk and needs to inform a plan of interventions that address criminogenic need and the causal links to offending.
  • Develop trauma informed practice approaches to young people.
  • Work in partnership with service systems to provide a co-ordinated and integrated approach to service delivery for young people.
  • Reducing the over-representation of young Indigenous people in the justice system, including through the Children's Koori Court and the further development of the Koori Youth Justice Program.

Key agencies

Youth justice agency

The Department of Human Services is responsible for providing youth justice services in Victoria. The Youth Justice service provides programs and resources to assist young people to manage their lives effectively without further offending. Through supervision, offending-related programs and linkages with support services, Youth Justice promotes opportunities for rehabilitation and helps to reduce crime.

The objectives of Youth Justice are to:

  • where appropriate, support the diversion of young people charged with an offence from the criminal justice system
  • minimise the likelihood of re-offending and further progression into the criminal justice system through supervision that challenges offending behaviours and related attitudes and promotes pro-social behaviours
  • work with other services to strengthen community-based options for young people enabling an integrated approach to the provision of support that extends beyond the court order
  • engender public support and confidence in the Youth Justice service.

Youth Justice is composed of:

  • Youth Justice and Disability Forensic Unit—responsible for service design
  • Local area Youth Justice teams—responsible for supervising young people on statutory orders in the community
  • Secure Services—responsible for the management and security of Victoria's youth justice centres.

Police

In Victoria, police may use their discretionary power to caution young people.

Courts

The sentencing principles in the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005 distinguish the developmental needs of children and adolescents as separate from adults' needs. The Children's Court has a range of options available to it, and a clear sentencing hierarchy is established through the legislation.

Youth Justice provides assessment and advice to both the Children's Court and the adult court system to help in the sentencing process and to facilitate diversionary options where appropriate. This includes:

  • a central after-hours bail assessment and placement service to reduce the numbers of young people inappropriately remanded in custodial centres
  • the Youth Justice Court Advice Service (YJCAS) which provides information to the children’s and adult courts on the range of community based options including diversion, bail and community support services. YJCAS provides suitability assessments for Bail Supervision, Youth Justice Group Conferencing and Youth Justice Centre orders. 

Key elements, programs and services

Diversion

The Youth Support Service (YSS) aims to intervene early and divert young people away from the youth justice system by addressing the underlying causes of their offending behaviour. The YSS works with young people aged 10-17 following their first contact with Victoria Police.

In the Children's Court, the Intensive Bail Supervision Program provides support to young people aged 10-18 who are at immediate risk of remand in the North West, and Southern metropolitan suburbs of Melbourne. Bail supervision is also available state-wide on a case-by-case basis.

As part of the diversionary approach, Victoria has a unique sentencing option known as the 'dual track' system. The Sentencing Act 1991 provides for the adult courts to sentence a young person aged 18-20 to a youth justice centre as a direct alternative to imprisonment. The adult courts can also request that Youth Justice provide bail supervision and progress reports for young adults aged 18-20 where diversion from a more intensive adult justice outcome is possible.

A pre-sentence Youth Justice Group Conferencing Program exists across Victoria; its legislative framework is incorporated into the Children, Youth and Families Act 2005. The program is targeted at young people aged 10-17 who have pleaded or been found guilty of an offence serious enough to warrant a supervised order in the community. The conference brings together the young person and their family, the victims and the police to increase the young person's understanding of the impact of their offending.

Case management

The Youth Justice service is responsible for managing community-based and custodial sentencing orders imposed by the Children's Court and youth justice centre orders imposed by an adult court. Case management and interventions are informed by a comprehensive client assessment and planning process. Offending-related and offence-specific needs are addressed through individual casework, group work and referral to specialist services and programs.

The Youth Justice Community Support Service (YJCSS) is delivered by community sector agencies and provides a single entry point to support and services to complement the statutory case management undertaken by regional Youth Justice units. This model recognises that young people have a range of complex needs that require an individualised response. Service packages aim to enhance rehabilitation, increase economic participation and improve social connectedness. The YJCSS incorporates transitional housing and support through the Transitional Housing Management, Youth Justice Housing Pathways Initiative.

Offence-specific and therapeutic programs

A range of offence-specific programs are offered in Victoria:

  • Changing Habits and Reaching Targets (CHART): A structured, individualised intervention program used as part of the casework intervention. It uses a skills-oriented, cognitive behavioural focus to challenge offending behaviour.
  • Male Adolescent Program for Positive Sexuality (MAPPS): An intensive individual, group and family work-treatment program for adolescent males who have been found guilty of a sexual offence. MAPPS incorporates attitudinal and cognitive restructuring techniques, social skills training, relapse prevention, victim awareness, and education on sex and sexuality.
  • The Adolescent Violence Intervention Program (AVIP) is delivered at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct. AVIP is targeted towards young people at moderate risk of violent behaviour and offending to develop skills to assist them to refrain from using violence. There are three AVIP modular group based programs, each modified for a specific purpose. 
  • Motor Vehicle Offending (MVO) Program: This program is delivered to young people found guilty of motor vehicle offences.

Victoria also offers a range of programs designed to address offence-related issues and behaviours including substance abuse programs, health and mental health programs, housing programs and independent living support, education training and employment programs and a range of pre- and post-release programs.

Programs for Indigenous young people

Indigenous-specific programs have been developed and expanded to address the over-representation of Aboriginal young people in youth justice and to connect them with appropriate culturally-specific organisations.

The Koori Youth Justice Program supports Aboriginal young people to access appropriate role models and culturally sensitive support, advocacy and casework.

Koori Youth Justice Workers develop Aboriginal cultural support plans for clients; provide practical support to clients and their families; support other youth justice workers in assessing, planning and setting goals for young Indigenous people; and develop preventive programs such as sporting and recreational programs, including coaching and transporting young people to these events.

Supported accommodation and bail programs

The Koori Intensive Bail Support Program is a diversionary program that provides a supervised bail or deferred sentencing option for young Indigenous people who are at immediate risk of remand or a custodial sentence. It provides culturally-specific support to young Indigenous people to assist the courts in determining the most appropriate sentencing option.

An Intensive Bail Supervision Program aims to divert young people aged 15-18 away from remand and support their compliance with bail conditions. Intensive Bail Supervision workers provide supervision and support and facilitate referrals and connections with services during the bail period. Resources permitting, bail supervision is available to young people at risk of remand across the state on a case-by-case basis.

As a component of the Youth Justice Community Support Service, post-release housing and accommodation support is provided in 55 properties across Victoria for up to 110 young people each year. Information and referral workers from the Youth Justice Homelessness Assistance Service also provide outreach to assist young people who are not able to access the properties and support.

Pre- and post-release support

The Koori Intensive Pre- and Post-release Program has three components, which cater to young Koori people in custody and leaving custody:

  • The Senior Advisor coordinates the  program to ensure that effective pre- and post-release services are available
  • Koori Intensive Pre-/Post-release practitioners provide intensive, culturally-based case management focussed on developing family and community support and linkages with specialist services
  • Koori cultural programs are regularly offered in the three Youth Justice Centres.

The Temporary Leave Program supports the effective transition of young people from custody back into the community by promoting personal growth, skills development, behavioural and attitudinal change and the adoption of appropriate, non-offending behaviours. 'Temporary leave' refers to a time-limited leave of absence from a Youth Justice centre for a young person who is serving a sentence.

The Youth Residential Board and Youth Parole Board have responsibility for all young people sentenced to detention in a Youth Justice custodial centre and those transferred by the Adult Parole Board to such a centre. The boards aim to balance the needs of the young person with community safety considerations.

Other programs and services

A trauma informed practice approach is utilised across the Youth Justice service to ensure consistent service delivery and the engagement of families and communities to assist in supporting young people.

As part of a trauma informed practice approach Secure Services in partnership with Berry Street Take Two has established an Intensive Therapeutic Service (ITS) for young people in custody who have histories of trauma. The ITS supports the provision of daily activities and interactions that can be used to teach young people better ways of coping with others and managing their own emotions. Young people who use or threaten extreme violence or destructive behaviour and those identified as having complex presenting issues which may escalate towards violent or disruptive behaviour are considered for the ITS. Using the ITS preventatively, to respond to violent or dangerous behaviours before they escalate to crisis point allows for an effective diversionary approach. It is anticipated that introducing a more therapeutic approach will help to minimise the use of more invasive options such as restraint and isolation, and ensure they are only used as a last resort.