Contemporary detention environments (Volume 15)

Youth Justice custodial facilities aim to provide a secure environment for the detention and rehabilitation of children and young people convicted or accused of committing a criminal offence. The Victorian Government is committed to the safety of children and young people in Youth Justice custodial facilities and continues its work to prevent all forms of child sexual abuse from taking place in these environments and ensure an effective response if it does.

Child Safe Standards in Youth Justice

The Victorian Government has implemented policies and practices and is continuing work to ensure Youth Justice services comply with the Child Safe Standards (Standards), so children and young people within Youth Justice precincts and those under community supervision continue to be safe. Learning and development remains an important avenue for reinforcing the Standards and staff obligations.

Youth Justice custodial and community staff are required to attend training programs on the Standards and the Reportable Conduct Scheme. A new Certificate IV in Youth Justice is being introduced to improve training for custodial staff. The program will embed training on the Standards and reporting processes. Additionally, a new Operational Safety Training package has been developed and is being rolled out to support Youth Justice staff to update their relational skills and build de-escalation skills.

Introduction of body scanners in place of routine unclothed searches

In 2020, the Victorian Government undertook a review of unclothed search policies and procedures in Youth Justice facilities. Body scanners have replaced mandatory routine unclothed searches at Parkville Youth Justice Precinct (since 18 August 2020) and Malmsbury Youth Justice Precinct (since 19 February 2021), as part of a deliberate shift away from unclothed searches for detecting contraband. Youth Justice staff who use the body scanner have received training in its use.

Unclothed searches are only undertaken based on the outcome of scans and an assessment of ongoing risk. In such cases, unclothed searches must be authorised by an Operations Manager and recorded in a register. Where unclothed searches are required, they are conducted in such a way that allows the young person to remain partially dressed throughout the entire process. This recognises the negative impact unclothed searches can have on children and young people, particularly those with a background of trauma, and the limited success of this method in locating contraband.

Custodial Classification and Placement Unit

The Classification and Placement Unit in Youth Justice Custodial Services commenced operation in 2018 and assesses and identifies the individual needs of children and young people in custody. It also ensures they are placed in an environment that is consistent with their assessed risks and needs. When making its decisions, the unit considers security, risk management and how best to address the rehabilitative needs of the children and young people under custodial supervision.

Youth Justice Key Workers

Young people in custody are assigned frontline Youth Justice workers as a ‘key workers’ during their time in custody. The key worker is an additional support to that young person, assists them to engage with programs and activities targeted at their rehabilitation, and as another point of contact for the young person. Key workers take a leading role in case management and participate in care team and case management meetings involving the young person. During 2021, additional workplace coaching was provided to Youth Justice workers to support them to undertake the key worker role.

Complaints management processes in Youth Justice facilities

In March 2021, the Victorian Government enhanced the internal complaints process within Youth Justice custodial environments by introducing two additional mechanisms through which young people and their families can give feedback and make complaints about matters related to Youth Justice supervision in custody. These new mechanisms include an email address and dedicated phone line that young people can access internally at no personal cost. This phone line is also accessible to their families and carers.

These new channels for raising complaints sit alongside the established methods of using unit-based feedback boxes, talking to a staff member, the Independent Visitor Program run by the Commission for Children and Young People and the Victorian Ombudsman.

Complaints that are received via the phone line, feedback box or email inbox are recorded in the Youth Justice Custodial Complaints Register. Complaints made by young people in Youth Justice facilities are acknowledged in person by a member from the designated Custodial Standards and Quality of Care team (CSQC), while complaints received from a family member are acknowledged in writing to the complainant within a week. The CSQC assesses complaints to determine how they should be managed. Concerns regarding physical or sexual assault are escalated immediately to the General Manager according to the Incident Reporting Guidelines. Where appropriate, young people are supported throughout the complaints process by their key worker and their Unit Manager. They also receive assistance throughout any investigation processes.

Custodial Forensic Youth Inpatient Unit

In line with recommendations from the Royal Commission, Youth Justice services provide necessary support to meet young people’s needs in custody.

The Custodial Forensic Youth Inpatient Unit is a three-bed ward located on Footscray Hospital grounds, delivered by Oxygen Youth Health and accessible to young people with acute mental health needs. The facility provides acute inpatient services through a range of therapeutic interventions and programs to young people in custody.

Cherry Creek Youth Justice Precinct

The Victorian Government has made a capital investment of $419 million to build a new Youth Justice centre at Cherry Creek, near Werribee. Construction of the centre is currently underway. The design of the Cherry Creek facility has been revised, in line with international best practice, feedback from independent experts, and recommendations from the Armytage/Ogloff and Neil Comrie AO reviews. The new design will allow for the delivery of a more specialised facility that focuses on staff safety and reduces re-offending among young males aged 15-18 years, particularly those on longer term remand. Smaller accommodation units at Cherry Creek will help staff address young people’s very complex needs.

The Cherry Creek facility will also include an intensive intervention unit, a specialised health care unit, intensive alcohol and drug treatment, and dedicated mental health beds. Furthermore, the facility will cater to Aboriginal children and young people who require a tailored approach to support their cultural needs.

Dedicated supports for Aboriginal children

Several initiatives are underway to reduce the number of Aboriginal children involved in the youth justice system. This has been backed by $11.89 million over four years of additional funding in the 2020-21 Victorian State Budget. These initiatives include:

  • expansion of the Community Based Aboriginal Youth Justice program, including gender specific responses
  • support for Balit Ngulu, a specialist holistic legal service for Aboriginal young people, and
  • work with the Koorie Youth Council to amplify the voices of Aboriginal children and young people in policy and programs.

Cultural safety for Aboriginal children and young people

Protecting cultural rights and upholding cultural safety plays an important role in maintaining the social and emotional wellbeing of Aboriginal young people in Victoria’s youth justice system.

The Victorian Government continues to expand and develop the Aboriginal workforce within all levels of Youth Justice. A team of four Aboriginal Liaison Officers led by a Team Leader and a Manager of Aboriginal Custodial Operations advocate and respond to the cultural needs of Aboriginal children and young people, support the development of cultural support plans and work to ensure connection to family and community are maintained. They also work alongside the Commonwealth funded Youth Through Care workers to support young people to transition from custody to community.

Aboriginal young people in custody are offered a suite of culturally specific supports and programs to build new and reinforce existing cultural connections. For example, Aboriginal community organisations and Elders are engaged to provide culturally appropriate mentoring to Aboriginal young people in custody.