Youth justice needs new focus

Outgoing Children’s commissioner Michelle Scott.
Outgoing Children’s commissioner Michelle Scott.

Michelle Scott said that while the rate at which young people were coming into formal contact with police was decreasing, the rates of detention were increasing.

‘The number of young people in detention here in WA continues to remain higher than most other Australian states, despite our smaller population,’ she said.

‘Between April and June last year there was an average of 168 WA children and young people aged 10 to 17 in detention, compared to 63 in Victoria and 66 in South Australia.

The Department of Corrective Services 2012/13 annual report says it costs $645 a day to keep a young person in detention.

Ms Scott, who announced she would step down from her position in December, spoke about changes needed to reduce the number of young people in detention at the recent Youth Legal Service annual general meeting.

‘Importantly, we need to remodel our approach to children and young people who come into contact with the police and courts to focus on rehabilitation and diverting them from detention,’ she said.

‘We must also focus on early intervention to prevent the development of criminal and offending behaviours and work to divert these young people away from detention.

‘Research has shown that initiatives with the strongest chance of success provide employment training and education, psychiatric and psychological services, relationship and family support and treat drug and alcohol problems.’