Speaker: Tiffany Overall, Advocacy and Human Rights Officer at Youthlaw, which is a specialist community legal centre in Victoria for young people under 25 years. Tiffany is also Convenor of Smart Justice for Young People (SJFYP).
Youthlaw works to achieve systemic responses to legal issues facing young people, through
casework, policy development, advocacy and preventative education programs, within a human rights and social justice framework. The SJFYP is a coalition of more than 50 organisations from the youth, legal and community sectors advocating for smart, evidence-based approaches to youth justice. Launched in November 2011, SJFYP promotes awareness of youth justice issues amongst the community, media and decision makers, to foster discussion, inform debate, encourage involvement of all concerned, and influence decision makers. Tiffany emphasised the focus on preventing young people becoming part of the justice system by supporting families and communities with strategies and practical methods to engage youth.
They also work with government departments and the police when young people do have
connection with the justice system. In the Youth Parole Board Annual Report, the Chairman
stated that “We need to be recognising and confronting that 60% of those incarcerated are from the disadvantaged especially Aboriginal, Maori and Pasifka, East African; but also child
protection and ex-child protection children and young people.” Tiffany regrets that the ‘law and
order’ narrative continues to hold, preventing a lot of what they are trying to do. Prison needs
to be the last resort, with cautioning and diversion programs a priority. The earlier young people have connection with the justice system, the more likely they are to get into crime. Solutions tailored to, and working together with, each community has shown to be the best way of avoiding this.
School engagement is area in which they collaboratively work with partners, focusing on early
intervention suited to specific cultures, with clear commitments and targeted programs.
Children being held on remand do not have access to education programs. SJFYP tries to support them back into education or work on release. For those incarcerated, restorative programs are an option for courts, including conferences linking perpetrator with victim.
There is a national campaign to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility to 14 years, as called for by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child and implemented by several countries. Children’s brains are still developing at 10 years, especially in the part that controls
responsibility. Link to the National Campaign: https://www.raisetheage.org.au/