Wednesday 24 June 2009

Estimates Committee B (Thorp) - Part 2


Ms THORP - It really is quite heartbreaking if you look at the charge list of a young person who may at any one time be one of the young people up there on remand.  Your instinctive reaction is, 'What on earth is someone doing up there on remand?' But if you go back often the charge is for several car thefts, break and entry, assault, damage to property, and at that time they may be on remand for a particular charge but they have often been there a lot.  Most of the interventions are in the form of community service orders, case conferencing and that kind of thing.

Ashley really is a last resort but we are very aware, particularly as Mr Wing was saying, that you do not want the magistrate to be sending the kid to Ashley because they have protection and welfare issues concerning them.  We should have other options if someone is in front of a magistrate than saying, 'I have to send this young person to Ashley because I am concerned about their welfare if I bail them into the community.' We have to have options there for those young people-accommodation options and also an opportunity to get the kind of support levels in and get them in quickly to try to help them.

CHAIR - We have heard the story, Minister, in the chamber about the young lad who decided that at Ashley you could get to watch the TV and have a warm bed where you could not get it at home.

Mr FINCH - Just on that subject, too, like many people I am concerned about the long wait that some of these young offenders have before their cases are resolved.  They are often remanded in custody at the Ashley detention centre seemingly sometimes for longer than the actual sentence that they would have eventually received.  It was interesting to note just in the performance information-I really investigated this with the Minister for Corrections and I noticed in the Magistrates Court (Youth Justice Division) they are looking for a target of 20 per cent pending cases older than six months.  So they are trying to reduce that to 20 per cent of the caseload.  I am just wondering, have you any concept of the bottleneck that is occurring so people are held up?

Ms THORP - There are some issues for us there, because we have no control over the number of young people the police charge.  We have no control over their efficiency.  If they go out there and catch the young people and charge them with an offence, then we have no say in that.  We also have no direct control over the amount of time it takes for any particular case to be heard.  Nick, you might want to add to that.

Mr EVANS - It is a very rare occasion that a young person would be on remand at Ashley for six months.  I would imagine there would be no more than one a year-a young person who has been in that situation and most often they are there for quite serious offences.  So many of those cases that are in the backlog that you are talking about, those young people will not necessarily be remanded into custody; they will be bailed or in other sorts of arrangements.  We have, though, at any one time about 60 per cent of young people who are in Ashley on remand.  They are there on remand-and it is a bit hard to say, because some of them are only on remand for one or two nights; others can be, and in a rare occasion, up to six or eight months.  Typically, you are looking at, I would say, three to four weeks to be the typical time a young person is on remand.  So it is an unusual circumstance that it would be as long as six months.  I guess we would agree that that is not acceptable and I am sure the courts would also see that.

Mr FINCH - Yes, because there are some processes that are quite timely when you are going through the Magistrates Courts, through that process.

Mr EVANS - Yes, and it is especially the case when the young person is charged as an adult, for example, because of the nature of their offence, the jury is empanelled and all of those sort of issues.  It is a significant time when the offence is a serious one.

Mr FINCH - There is another question that I have-

CHAIR - You are welcome to ask it.

Mr FINCH - On Ashley.  Okay.  In respect of the work that goes on there and the costs that come back to Ashley, in respect of the contract work that takes place at Ashley, would that come into your bailiwick, Minister? I am thinking about when the prisoners or the youngsters there need to travel.

Ms THORP - The secure transport is a contract.  There is a contract in place at the moment which I think is due to expire in about February 2010.

Mr FINCH - What is the extent of that? Is that a costly sort of service? I am under the impression that it costs about $1 000 to take somebody from Ashley to Hobart.  There is no sharing of vehicles or anything and it is quite a costly process.

Ms THORP - My information says that the cost to the department for the service, which is a tendered contracted service for secure transport, is under $250 000 for the year.

Mr FINCH - And that is just for Ashley?

Ms THORP - Yes, and as at March 2009, the total number of secure escort transportations was 524, comprising 272 to and from the south, 201 to and from the north, and 43 to and from the north-west.

Mr FINCH - But doesn't that seem like a large amount-$250 000 in transport?

Ms THORP - Yes.  Well, as I said, it is tendered and my understanding is that in the not too distant future the tender would be up for renewal?

Mr EVANS - Yes, that's right, but I guess that-it is a costly service to provide because you cannot put one- it is at least two people in a vehicle on every occasion.  The service has to be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week, because if a young person offends at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning-and despite one incident that was in the press a few months ago-we do not want them held in adult custodial arrangements.  So that sort of capacity to transport them has to be available at 3 o'clock on a Sunday morning and, you know, appropriate numbers of staff members, depending on the young people involved, have to be available to transport those kids to Ashley and then subsequently back to court appearances.

As we have sort of alluded to, sometimes there can be three or four or five court appearances in one matter.  Although we had video facilities available on site, sometimes for understandable reasons magistrates are reluctant to do that and actually want to eyeball the young person involved.  So, you know, all those things added together do make it an expensive service to provide.  But obviously when we let the tender, the cost of it is pretty important in the decision we make. 

Mr FINCH - It just stood out to me, that is all, without an understanding of what the service was there for. 

CHAIR - How long will the next tender be let for-the length of time?

Ms THORP - I will just throw that one back to you.  I am not sure.  I do not think my briefing note actually had an end date on it. 

Mr EVANS - The current tender is two years with an option for a further year if both parties are amenable to that happening.  I do not think we see any reason that we would change that length of time.  So it is two with an option for another year.