1 July 2021

Can we reimagine Canberra's youth justice system?

| Emma Davidson MLA
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Entrance to Bimberi Youth Justice Centre

Emma Davidson says the ACT is making progress on youth detention. Photo: File.

Imagine a world where there is no need for the Bimberi Youth Justice Centre. A Canberra where our services are so integrated and robust that we can support the complex, unique needs of young people and families when they need it, and where they need it.

We are getting there because we do not give up on children and young people. And raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility gets us one step closer.

Many young people who find themselves in the youth justice system have a series of underlying complex and unique issues such as trauma, drug and alcohol abuse, mental health issues, abuse, neglect, homelessness or disability.

Recently, I spoke with the ACT Perinatal Mental Health team, which highlighted that the most fulfilling part of their job is knowing they are putting a stop to intergenerational trauma.

The mothers they support often have a deeply rooted, highly traumatised background from their own relationships with their parents. They are often worried they will repeat those harmful behaviours with their own kids.

It’s unfortunate these women are experiencing mental health challenges. Just like it’s unfortunate that children become involved with the justice system. While there are supports available, we need to coordinate our services and ensure they are holistic, accessible and strengths-based to meet the needs of all young Canberrans and children.

The ACT Government has a responsibility to ensure services are available and tailored to the individual needs of children and young people, and ultimately keep them out of the justice system. The impact of childhood trauma sticks with people throughout their lives and is often transferred onto their children. When people lose faith in young people, they can land in the youth justice system.

Earlier this year, I was proud to launch the Functional Family Therapy pilot to provide intensive, robust and specialised support for young people and their families. The diversion program focuses on meeting the needs of our young people before they enter or re-enter the youth justice system.

Providing these supports, and keeping at-risk families in touch with services, can keep young people out of the justice system. It can eliminate intergenerational trauma.

That’s what we are doing in the ACT. Supporting children and young people is transformational for future generations.

The ACT Government has been spearheading discussions nationally about how we raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility. Last week, ACT Attorney General Shane Rattenbury launched a discussion paper around the complexities and viewpoints of this change. This is an exciting time for Canberra and gives us an opportunity to reimagine our entire youth justice system.

But the reality is we cannot do it without the Canberra community. We want you to engage with us and share your thoughts. This is not a new concept and Canberrans have been largely receptive to raising the age of criminal responsibility so children as young as 10 are not being thrown into the justice system.

We have the data: once they are in the justice system they are likely to re-enter again later in life.

No child is a lost cause. We have a responsibility as a community to support, teach and help them overcome unique or complex challenges so they do not engage in harmful behaviours.

It truly does take a community to raise a child and together we are doing that.

Emma Davidson MLA is a Member for Murrumbidgee and the ACT Minister for Disability, ACT Minister for Justice Health, ACT Minister for Mental Health and ACT Assistant Minister for Families and Community Services.

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Mike of Canberra3:23 pm 05 Jul 21

Forget these airy-fairy ideas of needing a community to raise a child. The reality is that we pay young women to have children to anyone they fancy and then, having entered the welfare system, we reward them with subsidised housing and a host of other benefits. Isn’t it about time the fathers of these children took some responsibility for their upbringing and wellbeing? Oh, that’s right, they’re long gone. Isn’t it time we took some action at this end of the problem rather than syrupy, expensive ads by welfare charities about little girls who want to be vets but are too poor?

A very good article, but I believe it doesn’t get to the nub of the problem in the first place. That is the existence of laws which criminalise normal, harmless behaviour.

The advent of Covid and the lockdown last year should have seen a great reset, namely the nullification of all the laws which had been brought in up till then. Over the years we simply had governments bringing in more and more laws on top of everything else restricting everybody’s freedom and liberty.

I’m on record as saying that indigenous people should be exempt from the law. It would be a good idea if everybody else was free of legislation and red tape as well. Of course that would mean many police and lawyers being thrown out of a job, and the shock jocks and Murdoch newspapers would scream the joint down if that ever happened.

“I’m on record as saying that indigenous people should be exempt from the law”.

So, in John Moulis land, what happens when an indigenous person commits a murder?

Utopia. Sounds like a great place, where there’s no bad people, nobody ever does anything wrong and it’s all lollipops, rainbows, puppy dogs and unicorns.

Yes it’s a great idea to intervene early to prevent young people from entering a life of crime. The reality of it is that there will always be people who choose not to engage and will go on to commit a laundry list of crime or do something heinous. There needs to be a place that protects the community and keeps them safe, that is a place like Bimberi. Having said that, inter generational crime would reduce also if members of certain families were castrated and prevented from having children. Put that on your list please.

Sounds good to me

Perhaps if we go back to the good ole days where police were respected by all and feared by the criminal milieu. Back when police could give out good clip behind the ear or a kick up the backside to set wayward youth on the straigh and narrow.
Where youth could attend the local police boys club, learn boxing and become better men. Maybe bring back national service as well

Lots of waffle and buzzword bingo.

Cutting through all that, please put it down clearly.

When we have kids under 14 committing crimes, stealing from shops, breaking into houses etc, what exactly are you going to do to stop them?

How do you intend on keeping them out of other people’s houses?

Or is the intention to just tell people to accept the crimes against them because you believe their suffering is for the good of society?

what do you suggest?

When’s ones actions are not punished as others would be it sets a bad precedent and demeans the justice system.

Punishment doesn’t work. Reform and rehabilitation is the answer

Carriew – do you really think juveniles and adult criminals are punished in the ACT?

Tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of dollars have have been spent on rehabilitation and education programs since both these facilities opened – net result = Zip. Zero. Nil. Nada success.

So instead of saying the tired and often repeated “Reform and rehabilitation is the answer”, how about coming up with a successful rehabilitation and education program for crooks?

Intergenerational trauma – just another excuse for not taking responsibility for ones actions…

Peter Curtis5:02 pm 04 Jul 21

For some people it is a real thing. We know that 10 year olds do not think as do (some/most) adults. I would contend that 14 is problematic too as a minimum age.

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