Welcome to Eureka Street

back to site


Reframing juvenile justice

  • 20 June 2023
Usually, the soundtrack for my morning drive to work is provided by Triple JJJ or Smooth FM, depending on my mood (and suggesting how widely they can vary). Yesterday morning, as occasionally happens, I flipped the dial over to AM and settled on the local ABC station. Ali Moore was about to begin talking to the Police Association Secretary about youth crime and, I must admit, I rolled my eyes. The former youth crime defence lawyer in me was sceptical about what would be served up.

On Tuesday staff at Victoria’s Malmsbury Youth Justice Centre were told it would close at the end of the year. The facility holds young people, potentially from 10 years old up until the age of 22 who have been sentenced for crimes committed as children. Malmsbury has been plagued in recent years by claims of violence and mismanagement.

There remains a Youth Justice Centre at Parkville and the government has built a new facility, the Cherry Creek Youth Justice Precinct which was completed last June but has yet to house a single resident. $420 million was spent on the new facility, and the government has touted its maximum-security features. One wonders if they are needed, let alone appropriate for a building meant to house and rehabilitate children.

Part of the justification for the closure of the Malmsbury facility is that there has been a reduction in the number of young people incarcerated. Predictably there followed stories of the ongoing problems faced by police in dealing with young people, even as the incarceration rate declined. Hence the interview with Wayne Gatt, Secretary of the Police Association. Gatt spoke to the troubling nature of violent youth crime and the concerns police had.

'I’m left reflecting both on how the contours of our common life can be upended when previously fixed positions are collapsed and advocacy for more compassionate responses succeeds.'

What surprise me was that though the ABC’s presenter, Ali Moore led Mr Gatt into making statements that would criticise the lowering rate of incarceration, he spoke to the way the youth justice system ‘is not actually designed to send young offenders to prison or youth detention but is designed to do quite the opposite and that is to have a rehabilitative focus.’ The Police Association Secretary seemed supportive of this and went on to say that in that context police could only do so much, even as they have an