UPDATE: New AIHW report shows 2,732 young people sentenced in the past 20 years, with First Nations young people overrepresented. Repeat detention rates – particularly for 10-13 year olds – highlight that detention does not act as a deterrant - while also being damaging.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has just released a report on young people returning to sentenced youth justice supervision. It indicates that over the past 20 years, 2,732 children and young people aged from 10 to 17 years were placed under sentenced youth justice supervision in South Australia (AIHW Oct 2021 Table S6).
Of these, 1,095 (40.08 per cent) had more than one sentence, with an average of 73 per cent who were released from detention and returned to sentenced supervision within 12 months (AIHW Oct 2021 Table S14).
Nationally, over the past 20 years, of the 88 children aged from 10 to 13 years of age whose first supervised sentence was detention (as opposed to the 4,893 in this age group who received a community-based supervision sentence), 82 children (94 per cent) subsequently received more than one sentence (AIHW Oct 2021 Table S2).
"... at least 2,732 young people who are probably struggling to find their way in the world because they have been subjected to avoidable trauma as a result of youth justice sentencing."
Data for the whole of Australia also shows that over the past 20 years, of all young people aged from 10 to 17 years whose first supervised sentence was detention (as opposed to community-based supervision), 37 per cent of those sentenced with detention were First Nations children and young people (AIHW Oct 2021 Table S1), even though First Nations young people only constitute approximately five per cent of Australia’s total population.
This disturbing data tells us three important things.
Firstly, it tells us that SA has at least 2,732 young people who are probably struggling to find their way in the world because they have been subjected to avoidable trauma as a result of youth justice sentencing.
Secondly, it tells us that First Nations young people are over-represented in youth detention.
And thirdly, based on the number of repeat detention sentences, it tells us that locking up children and young people does not act as a deterrent or improve their life chances and outcomes; children aged 10 to 13 who are detained are highly likely to become repeat offenders.
This picture is compounded by data from 2019/20 that shows that just over 28 per cent of children and young people admitted to the Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre are in care under the legal guardianship of the state, with many of these young people admitted to the centre on multiple occasions, at a rate much higher than those not in care (Office of the Guardian for Children and Young People, 2021).
In addition, the Guardian for Children and Young People has reported that children in state care who are arrested are being subjected to strip searches and placed in cells within direct view of adult offenders at the Adelaide City Watch House (InDaily 19/10/21).
This is despite human rights instruments stipulating that children and young people should only be detained for the shortest time possible, only as a last resort, and that they must be held separately from adults.
This system is clearly not working – children do not belong in detention, and they and their families need alternative guidance and support.
South Australia therefore needs to: urgently reduce the rate of First Nations young people being incarcerated in line with the Closing the Gap target; raise the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to at least 14, and put in place alternative therapeutic supports so that no more children are subjected to lifelong damage as a result of ineffective and repetitive punitive responses.