IS IT just me or does everyone think juvenile justice should be about rehabilitation, not retribution?

scott Blogs, Mark & Caroline

IS IT just me or does everyone think juvenile justice should be about rehabilitation, not retribution?

IS IT just me or does everyone think juvenile justice should be about rehabilitation, not retribution?

A new youth justice strategy from the Palaszczuk Government will focus on crime prevention and prison alternatives to reduce youth re-offending.

It’s about time.

A report released this week found our juvenile detention centres in Queensland are overcrowded, young people are forced to sleep on floors or spend weeks in police watch houses with adult offenders.

The majority of youth offenders are detained for property offences, which is certainly bad behaviour, but not dangerous.  As well, most of those detained are on remand, meaning they haven’t actually been convicted of a crime.

According to the report, six out of 10 young people who came into contact with the justice system had a diagnosed or suspected mental health/behavioural disorder, half had left school or were unemployed, 50% had been involved with child protection services and one in five were homeless.

Essentially, they are children who have been failed by adults.

More than 80% of youths who leave detention return within 12 months.  Juvenile detention is a great learning environment for kids on the wrong side of the law.

So what do all these changes look like? Early intervention – improving childhood health and education, including alternative schooling options for disengaged youth.  Mental health assessments to determine fitness for trial and improved case management, which should mean more social workers and disability support.

But the thing I think will have the biggest effect is restorative justice.

I am not sure what the Queensland model will look like but around the world governments are using an Australian model, the Reintegrative Shaming Theory, devised by criminologist John Braithwaite.

Professor Braithwaite contends just like good parenting – juvenile punishment should focus on the behaviour, not the child.

Under his method, if a kid is caught damaging his school, within two weeks he should attend a police accountability conference with his parents, a uniformed officer, the school principal and even the groundskeeper who had to fix the damage.

The officer describes the offence, the groundsman explains what effect it had on the school, the principal talks about what else he could have spent that money on and the parents express their sadness and disappointment in a kid who should know better.

When it is clear the child understands the ramifications, the group talks about restitution, either financial or via community service and part friends.

It’s not cheap but according to John Braithwaite in 95% of cases, juvenile offenders exposed to reintegrative shaming do not reoffend.

I agree adult justice must be all about the victim, but juvenile justice has to be about the kid too.

The alternative is building more juvenile detention centres and training more young criminals to be adult criminals.  We already know how that movie ends.

Caroline xx

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