According to the YMCA, in Victoria, almost half of young offenders will be imprisoned as adults. This is very expensive as, for example, it costs around $113,000 per adult prison place per year.
Thankfully, in Australia, all jurisdictions have laws that ensure that detention should be a ‘last resort’ for juveniles. That’s good because there is a growing belief that the emphasis in juvenile justice ought to move from simple punishment towards making young offenders accountable for their actions, while at the same time involving families in making decisions about their children and in addressing the needs and rights of victims.
The Victorian Government should be congratulated for providing $17.5 million aimed at reducing crime by young people through prevention and rehabilitation programs.
Unfortunately though, the Victorian Government wants to establish two year statutory minimum sentences for violent juvenile offenders (16-17). This sounds like ‘common sense’. However, studies show that the effectiveness of introducing higher penalties and greater levels of incarceration for young people committing violent crime as a way of decreasing crime and reoffending is doubtful. You end up spending too much on detention and less on prevention.
A new approach is to divert funds that would otherwise be spent on building additional juvenile justice centres to services and programs that address the underlying causes of crime in local communities. This is called ‘justice reinvestment’, and this approach is being successfully used in the US; it can result in real benefits such as reduced crime, reduced re-offending and cost savings for government, and provides long-term benefits to the community.
Stopping reoffending means less harmful crime down the track.
Judicial discretion is also important. A recent detailed Australian study showed that, when provided with more information about four actual cases, the public would have given lower sentences in three out of the four cases. Another recent Tasmanian study showed that a substantial majority of jurors with firsthand experience of judges consider that sentences are appropriate and that judges are ‘in touch’ with public opinion (the opinions of these jurors who have actually experienced the system are very different to those who form their perceptions second-hand via the mass media).
Legislation to establish statutory minimum sentences for gross violence offences will be prepared for introduction into Parliament in 2012. However, following a recommendation from the Sentencing Advisory Council in 2011, the Victorian Government has stated that statutory minimum sentences for juvenile offenders will not be included in initial legislation.
The Victorian Government is open to hearing from members of the public, so it is important to have your say now.
Sign this petition if you are opposed to mandatory minimum custodial sentences for young people.