Tracking Youth Recidivism
Madam Speaker, I move:
That this Assembly
Currently the ACT Government does not collate data of juvenile offenders who have gone on to be incarcerated in the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC);
Recidivism is one key indicator of the effectiveness of juvenile justice interventions;
The Government’s Blueprint for Youth Justice in the ACT 2012–22 lists amongst its goals that ‘youth … re-offending is reduced’ and includes the following indicator for successful reintegration into the community: ‘number and rate of young people who re-offend, both as young and adult offenders’;
As noted by the Australian Government’s Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC), large numbers of juvenile offenders progress to the adult corrections system;
Tracking recidivism only within the youth justice system as opposed to across both jurisdictions therefore fails to create an accurate and complete picture;
Consequently the AIC report ‘Measuring juvenile recidivism in Australia’ states that ‘measuring juvenile recidivism requires access to data on offenders in both the juvenile and adult justice systems’ and that ‘tracking juveniles into the adult criminal justice system is crucial to enabling jurisdictions to produce accurate and meaningful measures of recidivism’ and to reduce this recidivism;
Yet according to a question on notice from 4 August 2017, the ACT Government is unable to provide reliable data on the number of sentenced young people in the ACT who go on to serve a custodial sentence at the AMC.
Calls on the ACT Government to:
Recognise the important contribution to accurate and meaningful data collection provided by tracking the progression of juvenile offenders into adult corrections within the territory;
Establish policies and mechanisms that will allow for the robust collection and sharing of this data (including the usual indicators of male/female, Indigenous/non-Indigenous, and other relevant indicators);
And commence implementation of this data collection by the beginning of the 2018–19 reporting year.
Madam Speaker, I am pleased to move this motion today and to address this very important topic relating to young people in this territory. In the past, children who broke laws were treated no differently than adults, with even very young children imprisoned and punished alongside grown-up offenders. Those were definitely not the ‘good old days’! Thankfully, it is now widely acknowledged, both in Australia and internationally, that juveniles should be subject to a system that is separate to the adult system, one that recognises their inexperience and immaturity.
Having a distinct justice system for young people is based in large part upon what we know separates juvenile offenders from adult offenders. As all of the parents in this space will no doubt attest, kids are not just smaller versions of grown-ups. As the Government’s Blueprint for Youth Justice makes clear, quote, ‘children and young people are biologically different from adults. This is particularly true for the brain and how it functions’. Growing children have not yet developed full competence in decision-making, and they tend to consider risks from social and emotional perspectives, being heavily influenced by their peers.
The central purpose of a juvenile justice system therefore is to help young people ‘grow out of crime’ as they continue to develop cognitively and socially, hopefully adopting law-abiding lifestyles as adults. To give them the best chance at this, jurisdictions around the world do things like prohibit the naming of young offenders or the recording of their convictions. The goal is to avoid stigmatising them as criminals, which could entrench them in the criminal justice system. Because they are young and lack maturity in judgement, we seek to make it easy for them to put any offending well and truly in their pasts and move forward into responsible, law-abiding adulthood. I strongly suspect that a number of us in this chamber today have been personally benefited by this wise approach to youthful indiscretion.
As Kelly Richards, a research analyst with the Commonwealth Government’s Australian Institute of Criminology or AIC, has observed, because young people are ‘neither fully developed nor entrenched within the criminal justice system’, interventions can have an enormous impact on them. This is good when the interventions are effective, but, to quote Richards again, ‘conversely, the potential exists for a great deal of harm to be done to juveniles if ineffective or unsuitable interventions are applied by juvenile justice authorities’.
It therefore becomes extremely important to be able to assess the suitability of what happens in our youth justice system. To quote from the Government’s Blueprint for Youth Justice, ‘programs, initiatives and services’ must be ‘grounded in evidence and … regularly evaluated to ensure effectiveness and efficiency’. Though it is not the only way to measure this, recidivism is ‘widely acknowledged’ to be one of the key indicators of the effectiveness of juvenile justice interventions. This is a point that has likewise been endorsed by the Blueprint for Youth Justice, which has as one of its stated goals that the number and rate of young people who re-offend will be reduced.
The way we track how many young people re-offend, however, is also important. As noted by the AIC, older studies into youth recidivism in various Australian jurisdictions have exclusively looked at incidences where youth have re-offended whilst still classified as young people. The results of this research has ‘suggested that the probability of reconviction was small’, approximately 30 per cent. The same report notes that this information has strongly influenced juvenile justice policy, and it also shows up in a 2002 report prepared by the AIC for the ACT Government.
More recent research, however, has taken a much broader view and tracked repeat offending not just within the youth justice system but well into adulthood. The results of one study carried out in New South Wales have, quote, ‘challenged the long held belief that most juveniles do not reappear in court after their first criminal conviction’. In fact, it found that 68 per cent of those appearing in the Children’s Court reappeared in a criminal court within eight years, either as youth or as adults.
Another study carried out in Queensland found that most young offenders there ‘re-entered the criminal justice system during their adult years. Seventy-nine per cent of the offender cohort progressed to the adult corrections system and served either a community corrections order or custodial order …, with nearly half of the cohort serving at least one prison term’.
Based on statistics such as these, the AIC now acknowledges that, quote, ‘measuring juvenile recidivism requires access to data on offenders in both the juvenile and adult justice systems’. Failure to include both sources results in incomplete and therefore inaccurate data. In fact, the AIC has stated that, quote, ‘tracking juveniles into the adult criminal justice system is crucial to enabling jurisdictions to produce accurate and meaningful measures of recidivism’.
For these reasons, I encourage this Assembly to call upon the Government to begin tracking the progression of juvenile offenders into adult corrections within the territory. The Minister for Disability, Children and Youth has confirmed in answer to a question that I raised that the Government is currently unable to provide this data, with what information that is available unreliable as a result of being self-identified and unverified.
I understand the Government’s position that ‘reporting on the movement of young people into interstate adult correction systems’ is currently unviable. Doing so within the territory should certainly be doable, however. We are a small jurisdiction, with only one youth detention centre and only one adult prison. The two directorates that oversee both youth justice and adult corrections should face minimal trouble in tracking movement from one to the other over time.
I understand that because people are transient and move interstate, this data will still not be perfectly complete, but as the AIC has indicated, it will certainly provide us a clearer assessment of the effectiveness of the territory’s current juvenile justice interventions. It also has the added benefit of providing a more accurate picture of how those interventions are working for different subgroups amongst youth offenders.
For example, the Queensland study already mentioned above found that three risk factors – being Indigenous, being male, and being in the care and protection system – greatly contributed to the likelihood that a young person in the youth justice system would eventually progress to adult corrections, with the probability of entering the adult system closely approaching 100 per cent for those subject to multiple risk factors. I sincerely hope that we are doing a much better job than that here in the ACT with our interventions, but the only way to know is to collect and then analyse the data.
Madam Speaker, young people are valuable. I honestly hope that every member of this Assembly agrees with that statement. I believe in second chances. I believe in the reality of rehabilitation. I believe that young people who have got themselves in trouble deserve our best efforts to go forward, put those troubles behind them, and rise to great heights. This is an aspiration that has already been enshrined in the Blueprint for Youth Justice. One of the goals in that guiding document is that children and young people will be, quote, ‘given every possible chance to be successfully reintegrated into the community upon leaving detention’.
And how are we to measure this? According to the Blueprint, it will by measuring, and I quote again, the ‘number and rate of young people who re-offend, both as young and adult offenders’. Madam Speaker, in the ACT we do not know the number or rate of young people who re-offend as adults. This means that we cannot accurately determine if we are reaching this lofty goal or not. We must start collating this data and making it available so that we can know.
I commend this motion to the Assembly. Thank you.