Tuesday 29 October 2019
Hansard of the Legislative Council

Youth Justice

[11.38 a.m.]
Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, I thank two people who gave me a briefing during last week for my presentation today on youth justice.  I speak of Neil Warnock, a former and highly esteemed administrator of the Ashley Youth Detention Centre, and Ivan Webb, former principal of the Riverside Primary School.  I have spoken before about Ivan Webb and his interest in restorative practices and restorative justice.

This small island state of ours has the potential to create a justice system, and especially a youth justice system, that is the envy of the rest of Australia.  We can reduce offences, we can cut our prison population and we can improve rehabilitation and build a safer and more productive society, but this can only be achieved with considerable change.

Prevention, of course, starts in the home and in the education system, where young males in particular should be more closely observed and mentored.  Good teachers can swiftly recognise problematic behaviour.  We need a system where problematic behaviour can be addressed - both in the school and at home.  Specially trained social workers are needed here to initiate early intervention.

Peer pressure is a big factor in schools and often leads young males astray.  However, it can also work for the better, persuading young people that crime is a futile pursuit.  One problem, as I pointed out in a speech last year, is that young people have a poor understanding of the law and their rights.  This can be incorporated into curriculums - at least one Melbourne secondary school employs a lawyer to lecture and advise students who come up against the law system.

There needs to be many more sentencing options for magistrates dealing with youth crime.  The Ashley Youth Detention Centre is obviously not working well.  When young people leave it, there is insufficient support from the underfunded and understaffed youth justice system.  Last week Greg Barns commented that if a young person goes to Ashley, it is almost 100 per cent certain they will end up in Risdon.

We are told it costs $9.5 million a year to run Ashley and it could be argued that money would be better spent on more youth justice officers.  Preparations to support after release should start at sentencing.  Victoria Police now visit homes to check offenders are obeying bail and parole conditions.  The week before a young offender is released, police will often visit the family home providing tips to help the ex-prisoner from reoffending.

The usual political argument these days is that stiff sentencing and being tough on crime are effective deterrents.  It could be argued that the most effective deterrent is the certainty of getting caught.  Looking at our deficient justice system more closely we need to have a serious debate about the effectiveness of the present policies of recruiting more police, building more prisons, using mandatory sentencing and toughening parole systems.

The present rate of increases in prison numbers is not sustainable.  We all know keeping offenders in prison is highly expensive, yet we virtually ignore alternatives like home detention.  Those who are a danger to society must be in prison, but there are many in prison who can be dealt with elsewhere.  Our police should be relieved of more duties that can be done by civilians, so they can step in before a crime is committed.  In Melbourne, the Hume crime reduction team was assigned a spate of aggravated burglaries and home invasions.  Last year, this small team achieved a 32 per cent reduction in burglaries in a big city.  We can do better than that in Tasmania.  In Tasmania, we have tremendous potential to dramatically improve our justice system, but our stress on the outmoded concept of crime and punishment does need to change.