Youth detention provides an opportunity to positively intervene in the lives of disadvantaged young people, address their complex needs, and restore them to productive, high-functioning members of society.
However, a report by the Victorian Auditor General’s Office has found that the current system does not adequately address the needs of young offenders on a number of fronts.
What exactly are these complex needs and what is missing from detention facilities in terms of meeting them? Ahead of the Prisons 2019 Conference, we outline five – and summarise the findings of the report in relation to each.
Despite being open six days per week, 52 weeks per year, the report found that educational facilities at the audited detention centres were on a level of funding commensurate to that of an average state school – which is open for just 5 days per week, 40 weeks per year.
This meant that during a three-year period, the centres had missed out on a total of $27.4 million worth of funding. They instead incurred a deficit of $7.59 million – significantly less than the funding they would have received annually in their 2017 budget.
The report also found that the, “Ability to teach young people, deliver classes in the appropriate setting and award VCAL accreditation has been impacted by the operational environment”.
Meanwhile, ongoing lockdowns and an inability to escort young people to class presented further challenges.
As a result of these factors, the report found a school attendance rate of just 34 percent, compared to a national average of 90 percent.
The investigation found that 46 percent of young offenders in detention centres have substance abuse issues, but only 38 percent had completed drug and alcohol assessments upon admission; and only 50 per cent had received a “case plan”.
The report observed that, “Sometimes multiple young people are admitted at the same time, which puts the RPN [registered psychiatric nurse] under pressure to rush assessments.
“Additionally, there is a lack of privacy and confidentiality – the admissions area is open and often RPNs must carry out assessments in common areas. This impacts the RPN’s ability to conduct a thorough assessment, which ultimately impacts YHARS’ (Youth Health & Rehabilitation Service] ability to identify young people’s primary and mental health needs”.
The report also noted that, “Thorough assessment to identify and start addressing needs, set up a path for community reintegration and reduce reoffending risks should be a strong priority”.
Young offenders often require counselling to address emotional regulation, distress, trauma, grief and underlying mental health issues. While most young people benefit from some kind of intervention, the provider estimated that resources are only adequate for 30 percent of the overall population to receive care.
An under-resourcing of security also impacted psychological rehabilitation therapy, with 25 percent of sessions not going ahead because there weren’t any escorts available to bring the children or young people to their sessions.
The report said that as a result, “It is unlikely that youth detention is promoting reduced reoffending. Young people are not better equipped when they leave detention with the important life skills they need to become productive members of the community”.
In terms of physical needs, the audit found that, due to overcrowding, some children were not sleeping in proper beds, rather on mattresses on the floors of rooms such as isolation, medical observation and safe rooms – (46 of these were used as bedrooms); sharing rooms (51) and admission cells (4). As a result, many of the young people were distressed and felt as though they were receiving unfair treatment.
Inmate populations are comprised of approximately 16 percent Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders, 11 percent Mauri or Pacifica, 12 percent African and 8 percent as other nationalities.
However, the audit found that cultural needs were not adequately being addressed. While the youth justice centres did have cultural support workers who assisted the unit coordinators, the report did not find evidence that culturally appropriate treatment was embedded.
It also noted that there was a lack of culturally appropriate programs for young people. From a sample of 12 young people who identified as Torres Strait Islander, only 7 had a cultural support plan in place.
Kyley Daykin, Director of Performance Audit at the Victorian Auditor General’s Office, is behind the report and is due to speak at the Prisons 2019 Conference, where she’ll discuss key findings and outline the progress that has been made since its release.