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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 in youth justice in Victoria include:
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:
Youth Justice is composed of:
In Victoria, police may use their discretionary power to caution young people.
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:
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.
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.
A range of offence-specific programs are offered in Victoria:
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.
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.
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.
The Koori Intensive Pre- and Post-release Program has three components, which cater to young Koori people in custody and leaving custody:
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.
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.