New AYAC youth crime report urges governments to reinvest dollars in effective programs

Investment in community-driven services to prevent young offending is urgently needed to reduce the rising incarceration and remand rates of young people, according to a new report released by the Australian Youth Affairs Coalition (AYAC) ahead of their testimony to the Senate Committee hearing into the value of justice reinvestment held in Sydney today.

The AYAC report: Insights from the Coalface: The value of justice reinvestment for young Australians found that there is an overuse of detention for young offenders, despite it being well-established that detention is an overly expensive and ineffective way of addressing youth offending.

“The increase in both the numbers and the rates of young people in detention over the past decade shows the failures of youth justice policy – past and present.

“The evidence is clear – punishing young people with imprisonment does little to advance public safety and in fact, for young people, spending time in jail is connected with higher rates of offending,” AYAC Deputy Director, Reynato Reodica said.

AYAC’s report – based on results from consultations with youth justice workers across Australia – also reveals a worrying lack of investment in vital services for prevention, early intervention, diversion, and through care for young people.

“Tackling the root causes of criminal behaviour in young people must be the focus. Young offenders have often suffered trauma, poverty, and family breakdown and require support. They are victims of abuse, social isolation, mental illness, alcohol and drugs and need a helping hand.

“There are effective ways to combat youth offending, and it must start by giving them much needed assistance to address their critical needs,” Mr Reodica said.

Throughcare in the Northern Territory is one such program that has successfully helped young people at risk of offending  featured in the AYAC report. Throughcare works intensively with Indingeous young people, focuses on the root causes of criminal behaviour, and provides the support and guidance that is often lacking at home.

“Ultimately it comes down to the young people themselves, but the greater the support structures they have at their disposal, the better chance of establishing a life without reoffending,” Throughcare’s acting Project Coordinator, Terry Byrnes said.

7,265 young people aged 10 – 17 are currently under juvenile justice supervision. Over 800 young people are incarcerated annually, at the cost of over $600 per day, per young person – almost double the costs per day of adult incarceration.

“This report gives voice to the expertise and experience that comes from frontline work with these young people. Youth justice workers are decisively telling governments that gaps do exist in the current model and that we need a nationally consistent approach to youth justice,” Mr Reodica said.

“Rather than more of the same failed policies, this report provides us with an opportunity to think and act differently – and shift policy to focus on effective practice and better investment.”

Copies of AYAC’s Insights from the Coalface: The value of justice reinvestment for young Australiansreport can be downloaded from http://www.ayac.org.au/uploads/JRinsightsfromcoalface.pdf

For further comment: Reynato Reodica, AYAC Deputy Director (Youth Sector) – 02 9212 0500