Family violence: responding to the next generation

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PIPA Forum panel members left to right: Jo Howard, Kildonan, Lily Anderson, Step Up Program USA, The Hon Gavin Jennings, Special Minister of State, Jamie Marloo Thomas, Wayapa Wuurrk Aboriginal Wellness Foundation, Elizabeth Grawe, parent with direct experience of AVITH , Elena Campbell and Rob Hulls.

by Elena Campbell, Associate Director, Research, Advocacy and Policy, CIJ

Amidst the array of family violence reform across Australia, how does an issue like adolescent family violence rate? Is it really something on which we can afford to focus, when we already have so much work on our policy plates?

Far from peripheral, adolescent violence in the home (AVITH) is a very real issue for many working in and around the broader response to family violence. Certainly, throughout the development of the CIJ’s 2015 report, Opportunities for early intervention: bringing perpetrators of family violence into view, the CIJ heard consistently that (a) adolescent violence was a huge concern; (b) there was no considered response to it and (c) there was no opportunity to shape such a response.

Accordingly, the CIJ decided to develop a project which created this opportunity – the chance not only to understand the challenge, but to work towards a considered solution. In collaboration with colleagues across the sector and in other jurisdictions, the CIJ applied for and received funding under the Perpetrator Interventions Stream from ANROWS, Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety.

The result is the PIPA Project, or Positive Interventions for Perpetrators of Adolescent violence in the home (AVITH). This two year project involves dual strands – the first conducting research across Victoria, Tasmania and Western Australia which will enable us to understand the prevalence and contributing factors, as well as the kinds of responses that it currently receives in different legislative and regulatory regimes. This includes the Tasmanian regime, which currently only recognizes intimate partner violence. Meanwhile, the second strand focuses on the relevant recommendations of the Victorian Royal Commission into Family Violence – their implementation and relevant barriers; and the opportunities which need to be seized in order to work towards a considered response.

As part of this project, the CIJ recently hosted a public forum at the State Library of Victoria, the details of which can be found in our newsletter, with a link to the audio provided here. Over 100 people turned out on a freezing Melbourne night and heard this expert and diverse panel paint a vivid picture of what Special Minister Gavin Jennings remarked at the time was ‘as complex a challenge as you can imagine’.

This complexity derives in part from the fact that the primary victims of violence in this context are also the primary carers for those using the violence. What’s more, these carers are not only responsible for the welfare of the adolescent using violence, but for the welfare of their other children. In this equation, it is not surprising to hear that parents put their own welfare last – only resorting to calling the police after months or even years of violent behavior – simply because they want the violence to stop.

What happens in this situation, though? What prompts a family to call the police? What happens when they do? Answers to these questions remain regrettably elusive across jurisdictions. Police face tough judgment calls when they respond to an incident in which a parent does not want their child arrested. If the police do remove the child, there are few places to take him/her, and often the police response may involve simply sitting at the police station ringing around relatives just to find somewhere to place the child for the night.

If the child has committed chargeable offences, bail or diversionary options may not be available simply because the family does not feel that it is safe to have the young person home. This means being remanded and exposed to the criminogenic environment of custody. If children attend court as respondents to an intervention order, the programs which are available to help them and their family are confined to specific locations, with Magistrates also unable to mandate attendance for a cohort which is already incredibly difficult to engage.

Back home and feeling isolated and often ashamed, meanwhile, parents can now access more support than in the past, but support for their other children appears sorely lacking, as are opportunities for simple respite – a chance for families to catch their breath before their challenging adolescent returns home.

Without a doubt, implementation of the relevant Royal Commission recommendations will make a difference in Victoria – recommendations which include expansion of behavior change programs, increases in accommodation, support for victims and perpetrators at court, and expansion of diversion amongst others. These will also function as an example for other jurisdictions.

What the PIPA Project aims to do, however, is anticipate how these will work in practice, what the gaps are and how they can be more effectively linked. Using the findings from the first strand, the Project will feed this expanding evidence about prevalence and contributing factors up to senior levels and keep the issue of AVITH firmly on the policy radar.

In doing so the project aims to remind us that, amidst all the current policy frenzy, we have an obligation to respond to the next generation – adolescents who, in many cases may be using violence against their families simple because that is what they have learned; adolescents who are experiencing other challenges and who have not received appropriate support; adolescents who may well hit the service system as more entrenched offenders, unless we learn how to step in earlier and effectively respond.

Court of Appeal Reflection

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RMIT JD and VU law students with Court of Appeal Associates and other members of the legal profession

By David Gilbert, RMIT JD student

From the moment we entered the Supreme Court of Appeal, it was clear that the judges and staff saw our attendance as an opportunity to invest in the future direction of the legal profession. The internship was extremely well organised and structured providing a comprehensive insight into the machinations of the Supreme Court of Appeal and the Trials Division. A significant amount of time was afforded to us by judges and staff. Their commitment to ensuring that the internship was a rewarding experience was inspirational in the sense that it demonstrated the caring and mentoring culture of the legal profession.

Exposure to the diverse range of hearings that took place over the four days was invaluable. Two of the three hearings were criminal matters and the other was civil. The manner in which the appeals were argued by both parties was of particular interest, especially how the barristers interacted with the three judges at the bench. It was clear that the Supreme Court of Appeal judges were well prepared to hear the matters coming before them, to the point where it appeared they were alert to the strategies barristers were likely to deploy in their submissions. This was reassuring and demonstrated the integrity of the judicial process.

The most valuable lesson from this student’s perspective was that it is pointless trying to sell a dodgy car to a Supreme Court judge. The barristers in each matter put their best arguments forward dutifully representing their clients. The clarity of logical thought coming from the bench was strikingly apparent, leaving little scope for barristers to make headway by means of flamboyant advocacy skills supported by questionable legal principles or the cherry picking of facts.

The internship was inspiring, commanding all the respect the Court deserves.

Accessing justice through technology

Technology and the Law

by Mark Madden, Deputy Director, RMIT Centre for Innovative Justice

I have a confession to make. I am not a lawyer — but have worked with and around lawyers and justice systems for a fair bit of my working life. I have unmet legal need — after being knocked off my bike last year, I am writing off the costs to replace my bike because the time and process required to take the person to a tribunal to get justice makes it simply not worth it.

I am also passionate about building a fairer community and — and I am grateful for those who work in the legal assistance sector and lawyers who do pro bono to help get people justice.

I am sceptical about the ‘innovation’ agenda — sceptical, not cynical — but I am open to the great potential of innovation as a process, particularly in the justice space, and I have been involved in some major technology ‘disasters’, and have learned a few lessons as a result.

Today, I want to start a conversation about innovation and what it means; talk about the potential to deliver greater access to justice and maybe even end the need for pro-bono lawyers; and suggest that the future of law and justice is ‘T-shaped’ or multi-disciplinary and invite you to become involved if you aren’t already.

A basic definition of innovation is a ‘method, idea or product that is new or perceived to be new’. It is important to add ‘perceived’ because sometimes in the innovation space, what was old can be new again! It is important to understand that innovation is a process — and that the quality of the process will be a key factor in the success of the innovation.

We often think of innovation as a product or a piece of ‘hard technology’, usually IT, rather than a new idea or new way of doing or looking at things. We also often think of technology in terms of products, apps for example, when ‘technology’ can be a process. Indeed, at the Centre, our approach to innovation is informed by a method or process, or ‘soft technology’, called ‘human-centred’ or ‘impact-centred’ design, which puts the needs of users at the centre of the process.

What is it that they need, whether as victim or perpetrator, as applicant and respondent or simply someone who just wants an issue resolved, even before its gets into the formal system? Restorative justice, for example, is a method or process or ‘soft-technology’, as is therapeutic jurisprudence and multi-disciplinary practice. It is arguable that ‘adversarial justice’ is ‘old technology’, unsuited to many areas of justice including sexual assault.

This ‘user-centred’ approach can deliver new and challenging insights: in the UK a few years ago they took a user-centred approach to produce a digital map of what they thought was their justice system.

A key outcome was that the justice system was not by any definition a system at all.

That was and remains a powerful insight if you are serious about the task of improving or indeed creating a genuine justice system and delivering greater access to justice.

What is innovation: the available technology?

When it comes to ‘hard technology’, however, there is plenty out there that can be and is currently being used in the justice sector, from mobile phones to artificial intelligence and machine learning. If you have a modern mobile phone with a virtual assistant you have both.

Many of you may have heard about ROSS, based on IBM’s Watson artificial intelligence platform, sometimes called the world’s first robot lawyer. Indeed, if you are a user of e-bay, either as a buyer or seller, and have had a dispute, your dispute has essentially been resolved by similar technology. This technology allows e-bay to resolve millions of disputes across the globe every year. You may also be aware of the use of so-called ‘chat-bots’ to help people deal with a range of issues from parking fines to applications for asylum.

However, this technology is only as good as the process of innovation that has influenced its design and deployment.

Access to justice, meeting unmet legal need

My interest in innovation in the justice sector is not driven by the need to make law firms more profitable or predict the likelihood of particular judges making particular decisions in particular cases. It is motivated by the desire to improve access to justice for those who currently have little or no access.

We know from the NSW Law and Justice Foundation Report of 2012 that there is a huge unmet legal demand in Australia; that legal problems are widespread and impact on many other areas of peoples’ lives.

We also know that a sizeable proportion of people take no action to resolve their legal problems and consequently achieve poor outcomes; that most people who seek advice do not consult legal advisers, and if they can resolve their legal problems, they do so outside the justice sector — perhaps, reflecting the comments I regularly hear from lawyers that you should do everything you can to avoid going to court!

We also know the criminal justice sector is under great stress and strain, with growing demand, limited resources and longer waiting times.

In my view, innovative thinking that drives the smart deployment of ‘hard technology’ has the potential to dramatically improve this situation, with some important caveats, which I will come to later.

For example, in civil justice, a report on OnLine Dispute Resolution by HiiL Innovating Justice based in The Hague, suggests that the clever use of ODR makes the promise of 100% access to justice possible. The report says ODR has the potential to solve the internal dilemma of courts (and governments) that goes something like this — if we offer more effective and fair procedures, we will be overburdened with cases for which we have no funds.

A structured and intuitive ODR process can help the vast majority of people resolve their own disputes and be costed in such a way that most litigants can afford the necessary fees, as well as enable greater co-operation between courts and tribunals.

And while it may change the role of lawyers — and indeed potentially make their work more interesting — it won’t necessarily change the need for lawyers, and it opens up a whole new — and affordable — legal services market. Imagine that.

An ODR court is underway in British Columbia, the UK is moving in this direction and the recent Victorian report on Access to Justice canvasses ODR. Digital technology is also already transforming our courts in other ways, which I haven’t gotten time to go into here.

However, this is where my scepticism, and the caveats, comes in.

This ‘hard technology’ has great potential to improve access to justice, but the effects will be limited it we don’t take the opportunity to deploy ‘soft technology’ like human-centred, or ‘impact-centred’ design to see the sector with fresh eyes, seek the views of users and take the opportunity to re-think and potentially re-create a system for the 21st century.

If we don’t do this — as Sir Ernest Ryder (President of Tribunals in England and Wales) has said, we simply risk fossilising old and out-dated processes and practices in a layer of ‘hard technology’. 

The existing approach and solutions has the potential to be very expensive and therefore unlikely to be embraced by governments. If we don’t take this opportunity, to rethink and redesign, if the solutions are not scalable and if it outcome is not going to be embraced or responded to by users’ (because they weren’t involved) then it is unlikely to succeed.

So governments, courts and organisations in the justice sector need to take the opportunity to rethink and redesign the delivery of justice — and their own internal systems — from the users’ perspective — from the laws and rules we created to the processes we support and fund — and then decide what solution will deliver better outcomes, which surely must be greater access to justice.

And in doing so, they need to invite new partners from outside, including from the innovation, technology and particularly the design communities — as well as their ‘clients’— to help them and jointly start to think genuinely outside the box.

This process of ‘co-design’ may have to be pro-bono, of course, — at the start!

T-shape justice reform

In short, justice reform needs to be multi-disciplinary, or ‘T-shaped’.

Two years ago, the Centre embarked on the Access to Justice through Technology stream (A2JTC) of RMIT’s Fastrack Innovation Program with the support of Victoria Legal Aid and the Federation of Community Legal Centres.

This is a program where the best and brightest students from across the University are given the opportunity to tackle an access to justice issue. While mentors from the legal assistance sector support the students, there were doubts at the start about whether it would work.  And, for good reason. We would be asking undergraduate students in teams of three, with no legal background, to use their design thinking skills and the skills and knowledge from their various disciplines to tackle complex social and legal issues. And to do it in 13 weeks!

This was no theoretical exercise. Their solutions had to be desirable, feasible and viable.

The outcomes were beyond expectation. The mentors were amazed by how quickly the students grasped the issues and just as importantly challenged the way they had thought about the issues.

Two of the projects on family violence were sent for consideration to those implementing the Family Violence Royal Commission and another two, addressing fines and infringements we hope to get to the market, although finding the resources in the sector to do this is another major challenge.

The solutions in the 2016 program were just as impressive with challenges including a solution to end the referral roundabout in the sector but track unmet legal demand in real time, provide legal education and advice in visual form for CALD communities,and helping to prevent young people being exploited at work.

I realised after the first year that we had created what has been referred to as T-shaped justice reform.

That is, the skills and knowledge of the teams combined deep knowledge of an area (represented by the vertical) with cross-disciplinary thinking (represented by the horizontal). I think this is the way of the future, and the lawyers and the organisations who can combine these, either internally or by co-opting and embracing others are also the lawyers and organisations of the future.

Conclusion

This brings me back to an interesting point that emerged during a series of discussions I had last year around design, technology and access to justice and in particular a Dutch online dispute resolution system, called Rechtwijzer.

The system development was informed by design thinking. Despite the fact that it was ‘humanising’ dispute resolution by empowering people to resolve their own disputes — it was in some instances referred to negatively as a ‘robot-law’.

However, as one participant reflected later ‘what could be more robotic than the way we lawyers currently work in a system that for most people does not compute.’

It is an interesting idea that good design coupled with the right ‘hard technology’ could help us bring more of the human element into our justice sector and deliver greater access to justice and indeed create a real system.

It is an idea or innovation worth pursuing, and you can start the journey, by walking a mile in the shoes of your clients or users of the justice sector by asking simple questions, ‘what are your needs? What was your experience?’ You can also think about how much of what you do is administrative and repetitive and takes you away from what you would prefer to be doing.

For centuries, justice has resisted or at least failed to embrace change. It has fought to keep pilot programs at the periphery and to insist that this is the way it has always been done.   Today, with technological innovations there is real potential to address access to justice as never before.  The process is challenging and rewarding but if we don’t take the opportunity to rethink, reshape and innovate, the header image accompanying this blog may be the future we face.

11 April 2017

 

 

 

A crop of solutions

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The whole Access to Justice crew

The second year of the Access to Justice stream of the Fastrack Innovation Program has produced a crop of potential design and technology solutions to improve service delivery across the legal assistance sector, tackle exploitation in the workplace and help those in financial hardship avoid utilities disconnections.  Listed below are the innovative solutions pitched to the judges and audience on Pitch Night:

  • Handover is a tool for CLCs that streamlines the referral process and helps connect people to the services they need by automating the ‘referral roundabout’. It predicts appropriate referrals based on client details and case notes. Handover tracks the progress of each referral and captures this data at each touchpoint. Aggregation of this data presents stakeholders with a clear picture of unmet legal needs.

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Handover members Loy Rao, Jordan Fenton and Leea Johnston pitching their idea

  • Storyboard is an online platform that houses education modules that CLC lawyers can go through with their clients to best explain different legal issues. The system will have a comprehensive library of searchable visual modules to communicate complex legal concepts to clients in their native language and cultural context. The modules will be developed in collaboration with key members of the migrant communities and will be used as supplementary tools with consultations between CLC lawyers and clients.

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Storyboard members Callum Fogarty, Madeleine Buchner and Harjot Minhas pitching their idea

  • WorkMate is an automated texting service that follows a young person on their journey when they start their first job. It provides: tailored text messages, timed when they are most needed and appropriate, support to rural and metro populations, pre-emptive and preventative support for young workers, and instantaneous referral to services that are applicable and available.
  • Round-Up Power-Up is a platform for fundraising where bill payers are given the option to round up their utility bills to the nearest dollar, contributing the cents towards a fund to be utilised to assist families facing financial hardship to overcome their utility debt and avoid disconnection.
  • CourtPrep is a program that provides first time summary offenders with the information, materials (and training) they need to arrive at court prepared to engage with the judicial process.

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CourtPrep members Rey Takeshima and Bridget Dunne

  • Just457 is a web-platform that educates 457 visa holders on essential information about their rights at work and connects them to free, confidential legal advice through the hook of a job board specific to 457 visa holders. The platform also provides essential information to employers about their obligations, as well as an opportunity to advertise positions directly to a willing market.
  • EDA (or Energy Debt Assistant) is a chatbot (a computer program designed to simulate a conversation with human users) that connects indebted consumers with relevant assistance including not just financial support but also advice and guidance to help mitigate their energy debt
  • Where Are You (WAY) is a web-based platform that will facilitate access to all services related, but not necessarily limited to, young people’s interactions with the justice system in one location. This will allow young people, the key users of the service, to efficiently and accurately identify the most accurate and relevant services to assist them.

The award winners for 2016 were Handover and Storyboard. The challenge now is to introduce the these solutions into the legal assistance sector. Thanks again to VLA, the FCLC, our mentors and coaches and industry partners (Deloitte, isobar, Seed Digital, the Difference Incubator) and of course, Associate Professor, David Gilbert, Professor Aaron Smith and Sandra Arico.

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Handover winners with Pete Williams, Chief Edge Officer, Deloitte; David Gilbert, Associate Professor, RMIT; Serina McDuff, Executive Officer, FCLC ; Bevan Warner, Managing Director, Victoria Legal Aid and Rob Hulls, CIJ Director.

Judiciary does a difficult job and does it well

Golden Lady Justice, Bruges, Belgium

This article appeared in the Herald Sun opinion pages on 5/12/17

A curious thing happened on the pages of the Herald Sun newspaper recently (Friday, 25 November). Tom Elliott argued that ordinary Victorians should not be compelled to vote if they had no interest in the process… yet simultaneously insisted that our judiciary should be elected, because democratic processes were essential!

Though impressive, these rhetorical gymnastics fail to understand how our system was designed to work. We are incredibly fortunate to have a robust and stable democracy in Victoria. Fundamental to that stability is the separation of powers, which ensures that the judiciary cannot be influenced by the whim of political opinion, or sensationalist reporting.

In other words, our system was set up to ensure that each case which comes before a court is considered purely on its own individual facts; and that the outcome is not influenced by whether the judge is worried he or she might get an angry phone call from a member of the government afterwards.

This system is designed to ensure that each and every citizen is dealt with on the basis of the law, not of speculation – that somebody will not have their liberty deprived simply because of who they are, rather than what the evidence says they did.

Under this system, as Elliott described, judicial officers are appointed by the Governor upon the advice of the Attorney-General and Cabinet. This advice is provided, however, after widespread consultation and research, as well as, in the case of Magistrates, interviews by an impartial selection panel. While I was in office, it was also supported by advertised invitations for expressions of interest.

By contrast, in systems such as the US where judicial officers are elected, judges are under constant pressure to side with political or policy agendas and, arguably, may be open to influence about particular cases. This does nothing to put them in touch with the community, but only makes them more fearful and potentially less impartial about the decisions they make.

Despite this reality, a common accusation, and one Elliott threw casually into the mix, is that Victoria’s judiciary is ‘out of touch’. On the contrary, it is commentators like Elliott who are out of touch – out of touch with the reality of the challenges which come before the courts every single day; and out of touch with the evidence about what works in order to address them.

In truth, there are very few people who are more in touch with the reality of contemporary Victoria than the judiciary. Magistrates, in particular, confront a daily parade of dysfunction and disadvantage – family violence; childhood trauma; mental illness; Acquired Brain Injury; drug and alcohol addiction; homelessness; low educational attainment; intergenerational unemployment – these are the factors which usually propel people into offending and bring people before a court.

The Victorian Ombudsman agrees, her report of 2015 painting a very stark picture of how the demographics in our prisons reflect the way in which we have failed certain sectors of the population. Similarly, the Ombudsman makes clear that increasing the number of people in our prisons is not effective – that ‘tough on crime’ approaches are only producing more hardened offenders and actually making the community less safe.

Judicial officers weigh up the individual facts of each case and the arguments which are put before them, ensuring that due process and natural justice are observed. They do this countless times a week and it’s a job I’m confident that commentators like Elliott – who sit in the comfort of their studio and bay for the blood of people they know little about – could never do.

I am incredibly proud of the appointments I had the privilege of recommending while Attorney-General. Victoria has an expert, diverse, experienced and dedicated judiciary that is the envy of other jurisdictions – one which works incredibly hard under often difficult circumstances, and one which is rightly independent of political or media whim.

Elected officials – including politicians – are constantly worried about their own skin, influenced by the electoral cycle, always with an eye to the latest headline. We deserve a judiciary which has an eye only to the job at hand, administering the law with impartiality, but also with an understanding of the evidence about what works to stop the cycle of offending, and therefore what makes us safe.

Commentators like Elliott need to climb down from their ivory tower, take the time to understand the individual facts of each case they critique and engage with this evidence. If they can do this – if they can start to understand and advocate for what actually makes us safer, rather than just what makes us scared – they might just stop being so out of touch.

Rob Hulls

Photograph: Emmanuel Huybrechts, Flickr

 

My week at the Fair Work Commission

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RMIT JD Students Olivia Dean and Jack Faine

By Jack Faine, RMIT JD student.

Having spent a semester studying Labour Law I was looking forward to the week at the Fair Work Commission. Like other placement opportunities throughout my degree, the FWC placement brought my understanding of the law in to the real world. It coloured between the lines of my knowledge, giving meaning and practical understanding to the legislation I’d spent the last few months trying to get my head around.

The Fair Work Commission is immense. The first day we spent amongst the Registry learning about the the diligence of the team in reviewing the Modern Awards, the team analysing every EBA to assess whether employees are indeed ‘better-off-overall’ under the new agreements, and the team that produce the bench books. The enthusiasm of the young staff working in these teams has definitely sparked my interest in a job at the FWC after graduation.

The rest of our week was spent alongside Commissioners and their Associates hearing all manner of matters – ranging from a mediated general protections matter from a local Fish ‘n’ Chip shop, to a mediation between parties for breach of an EBA clause, to a two day unfair dismissal hearing involving cross-examinations and impressive advocates from both sides. After this we spent a morning with mediators who brought a delicate diplomatic touch to their job assisting negotiations between parties in unfair dismissals and general protections matters.

Both Olivia and I appreciated the time and effort put in by everyone at the FWC. They ensured that we were constantly exposed to different components of the FWC, and we were never short of people to sit down with and run through questions.

The CIJ placement opportunities are fantastic as you are exposed to professionals within different practice areas. I have learnt a great deal through conversations, questions, watching and just generally soaking up the realities of the legal profession.

A call for innovative responses to youth justice

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By Stan Winford, Principal Coordinator, Legal Programs

The history of youth justice in Australia over the last 200 years or so is characterised by the failure of punitive detention to impact on recidivism or to address at an individual or systemic level the underlying issues which have propelled many young people into the justice system and into custody. Across Australia, youth detention facilities house a disproportionate number of detainees with mental health issues and cognitive impairments, limited educational attainment, and histories of abuse, trauma and victimisation. Detention facilities have effectively become warehouses for vulnerable and disadvantaged young people, failing to effectively support education and rehabilitation, instead engendering criminogenic relationships and behaviour.

Aboriginal people have been more exposed to this failure than any other group, and are devastatingly over-represented in the youth justice system, particularly in the Northern Territory. Not enough has been done by successive governments to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Aboriginal people represent approximately 30% of the population of the Northern Territory, but 96% of children and young people in detention in the Northern Territory are Aboriginal.

Jurisprudence, criminology and behavioural science all tell us that children and young people have a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults. Yet the evidence shows that detention facilities provide an education in crime, and children who have been detained are more likely to re-offend in future. Detention is also the most costly form of responding to youth offending. Last year, governments across Australia spent $698 million on youth justice, and most of it (62.8 per cent, or $438 million) was spent on detention rather than community based responses. Detaining children and young people in closed environments is inherently unsafe. In the last five years, there have been investigations into youth detention facilities in almost every Australian state and territory. Violence and the use of excessive force appear to be endemic.

The documented backgrounds of children and young people in detention include very high rates of family violence, parental drug and alcohol abuse and contact with child protection systems. Rather than addressing this deep-seated trauma, however, youth detention exacerbates it by imposing additional trauma in the form of an uncompromising and authoritarian environment where violence – from other detainees and from authorities – is a constant threat.

If these costly facilities are not reducing re-offending and are harming young people, the question must be asked: why do we persist with this approach? Can we respond to trauma with trauma informed practices that address the underlying issues rather than their symptoms? Are there innovative alternatives?

It may be that the continued existence of youth detention centres themselves – with their consumption of a disproportionate share of juvenile justice budgets, and their tendency to present a deceptively appealing ‘out of sight, out of mind’ solution to a complex problem – create the greatest barriers to the development and adoption of alternative responses.

Despite this, alternative responses do exist, and demonstrate a path forward for youth justice. In Victoria, for example, Parkville College incorporates culturally appropriate and trauma informed practices, and establishes safeguards for young people in detention. Parkville College is a school within a detention facility in Melbourne.  Parkville College employs a therapeutic and trauma informed approach to learning and teaching. It aims to create lasting change for incarcerated students by establishing positive relationships and addressing the impact of trauma. It offers cultural connections to Koorie students and incorporates effective pathways for young people to maintain their education without interruption while transitioning out of detention.

Critically, it also helps create a safe environment for young people, and treats education as a right not a privilege. In many youth justice facilities, detainees frequently miss out on education because of the unavailability of custodial staff to supervise them, or because the ‘good order and security’ of the facility is prioritised above all else.  Normally, when education meets custody, custody wins. By contrast, if a young person is not available to participate in a class at Parkville College, education staff – having an obligation to teach them – can ask where they are, and for custodial staff to make them available.  Even if there is some valid reason for the absence of the student, the ability for teaching staff to ask the question provides an important measure of accountability. The learning environment established by the presence of teaching staff creates a fundamentally different culture, while the physical presence of teaching staff alongside custodial staff minimises the risk of inappropriate treatment.

Nationally and internationally, there are many other examples of innovative approaches to youth justice like Parkville College. Other jurisdictions are successfully harnessing the opportunities offered by restorative justice, therapeutic justice, justice reinvestment, culturally informed justice approaches, and solution-focussed courts to create more positive outcomes for young people.  Many of these responses are based on ‘user-centred’ approaches to designing solutions to entrenched and systemic problems. They recognise that to have the best chance of identifying opportunities for early intervention and diversion, the trajectory of people’s journeys through justice systems and processes must be understood. These are responses that focus on reducing trauma, and are informed by the people who have the most at stake in seeing them adopted. These responses focus on the power of education to transform young lives, disrupting the ‘trauma to prison pipeline’ and putting young people back on track. Innovative responses like these represent the best opportunity we have to change our approach for the better, so that another generation of young people are not lost to a system that fails to responds to their needs and the needs of the community.

The CIJ has formally provided the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory with a submission on innovative responses to youth justice.  Keep an eye out for the full submission on the Royal Commission website here.