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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 from entering or progressing through the justice system where appropriate, by providing court advice, group conferencing, a central after-hours assessment and bail placement service, and bail supervision and support at the pre-sentence stage of the court process.
  • Implementing the Youth Justice Programs Framework and Client Outcomes Framework to integrate performance measurement into practice, build an evidence-base for effective service provision, and assist with the evaluation and continuous improvement of programs.
  • Providing effective assessment processes, targeted and evidence-based interventions and case management systems.
  • Improving rehabilitation programs for young people through the 'What Works' evidence base for effective programs and practice, and intervening with young people to address issues that have a causal link to offending.
  • Providing support to the Youth Justice Community Support Service for the provision of intensive support and services. The service provides transitional support to young people exiting supervision to assist them to reintegrate into their community.
  • 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:

  • support the diversion of young people charged with an offence from the criminal justice system where appropriate
  • minimise the likelihood of re-offending and progressing further into the criminal justice system through supervision
  • work with other services to strengthen community-based options for young people.

Youth Justice is composed of:

  • Youth Justice and Disability Forensic Unit-responsible for service design
  • Community-based Youth Justice-responsible for supervising young people on statutory orders in the community
  • Youth Justice Custodial Services -responsible for operating and managing 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
  • an adult court assessment and support service for young people aged 18-20, that provides youth justice centre suitability assessments, bail support and advice, and referral services.

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 and West, and Southern metropolitan regions. Bail supervision is 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 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 Be Real About ViolencE (BRAVE) and Relationships And Violence (RAVE) programs: The BRAVE (for young men) and RAVE (for young women) programs were developed for those who have committed violent offences or displayed or threatened physical violence. They aim to tackle violent behaviour, increase understanding of patterns of violence, and improve pro-social coping skills.
  • 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 (KYJP) 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 Early School Leavers and Youth Employment Program is designed to divert young Koori people from the youth justice system by focusing on lack of engagement with school or other learning opportunities.

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.

As a component of the YJCSS, 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

The Intensive Therapeutic Unit (ITU) at the Parkville Youth Justice Precinct is being developed to assist in the management of a small number of young people with complex issues. The ITU aims to improve the safety and security of everyone on the precinct by the short term therapeutic management of behaviour, and provision of a meaningful package of interventions.

In recent changes to the department's organisational arrangements the role of the Chief Practitioner has been expanded to include Youth Justice. The Chief Practitioner-Child Protection and Youth Justice provides oversight of the child protection and youth justice programs and has direct involvement in high risk cases.