Justice Reform Initiative Media Release, 25 August 2022
The Justice Reform Initiative has backed calls by the National Children’s Commissioner Anne Hollonds this morning calling for a new national approach to reforming youth justice.
The Justice Reform Initiative is backed by 120 respected patrons from around Australia with Patrons in Chief being Sir William Deane and Dame Quentin Bryce.
The Executive Director of the Justice Reform Initiative Dr Mindy Sotiri said the National Children’s Commissioner is correct in recognising the “total failure of the existing system” which incarcerates children as young as 10.
“The crisis in youth justice centres is not new and reflects the long term failure of governments of all political persuasions to invest adequately in services, programs and supports outside of prisons, so that there are genuine alternatives to custody in the community for children at risk," Dr Sotiri said.
“We will look back at this time, at the way we incarcerate and punish children, in places like Ashley, and Don Dale and Banksia Hill, and be absolutely horrified as a community.
“There is an urgent need for reform and that must start by responding to the drivers of incarceration and investing in programs and services that work outside of the youth justice system."
Dr Sotiri said while there are some excellent programs and communities around Australia working with children and young people to break cycles of incarceration, these are unable to meet demand, are inadequately resourced, and need to be significantly scaled, especially in remote and regional Australia.
"It is entirely possible to divert children from the justice system by investing in community led programs. We know there is evidence about how to do this but what we are missing is political will.
“We urgently need national leadership, especially in places like the Northern Territory, where without a significant injection of Australian Government resources the NT Government simply does not have the resources to adequately fund the alternatives to incarceration for these kids.”
Dr Sotiri said the leading judges and magistrates who preside over Children’s Courts are “desperately searching for alternatives in the community for the children and young people at risk.”
“Among our ranks of patrons are numerous former Children’s Court Presidents from around Australia with many decades of collective experience of the failures of the existing system.
“That is why the Justice Reform Initiative is calling for an Australia wide approach to reform and investment in alternatives to jailing of children.
“It costs over half a million dollars each year to keep a child in prison. Imagine if we invested that money in programs that actually work to build safer communities."
Dr Sotiri said the leadership role of the Commonwealth in closing the gap of disadvantage of First Nations people must drive more national engagement. “The massively disproportionate rates of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children in custody cannot be allowed to continue.”
For more information and a list of patrons of the Justice Reform Initiative visit https://www.justicereforminitiative.org.au/.
Media contact: Pia Akerman 0412 346 746
The Initiative respectfully acknowledges and supports the current and longstanding efforts of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to reduce the numbers of Indigenous people incarcerated in Australia and, importantly, the leadership role which Indigenous-led organisations continue to play on this issue. We also acknowledge the work of many other individuals and organisations seeking change, such as those focused on the rate of imprisonment for women, people with mental health issues, people with disability and others.