Blueprint for Youth Justice in the ACT 2012-22
Annual Progress Report 2015
The third progress report demonstrates that the Blueprint’s focus on prevention and diversion strategies is producing positive outcomes for young people in the ACT.
Reduced numbers of young people coming into contact with the youth justice system means that the impact of youth crime is reduced, crime is being prevented and community safety is improved. Keeping young people out of the youth justice system means we are contributing to a safer and more inclusive community and are likely to be preventing a lifetime of crime.
Recent statistics show that the ACT youth justice system is experiencing unprecedented success by achieving:
- reduced youth offending;
- fewer young people involved with the youth justice system;
- fewer young people being supervised on justice orders in the community;
- fewer young people entering and remaining in detention;
- fewer young people on remand;
- reduced re-offending by young people on community-based orders;
- fewer Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people involved with the youth justice system; and
- a declining rate of over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the youth justice system.
Anecdotal reports from staff on the front line of youth justice are also positive. Staff report that the improved tools provided by the Integrated Management System and Knowledge Portal have given them a greater ability to address youth offending.
This early success creates an opportunity to work proactively rather than simply trying to keep up with demand. It allows the youth justice sector to devote more effort to addressing the underlying issues that lead to youth offending to achieve better long term results.
Importantly, this achievement suggests that the social and financial benefits being made by the youth justice sector at this time are likely to benefit the justice sector, young people and ACT community for years to come.
Building on this opportunity is the next step. This means delivering a youth justice sector that builds on the government’s commitment to provide ‘Better Services’, reinvest in community-based crime prevention and contribute to a socially inclusive community.
It is difficult to identify a single cause for the decline in young people coming into contact with the ACT youth justice system; rather, it is more likely that several have coincided.
Diversionary programs that target young offenders, many who are first-time offenders and could be at risk of becoming persistent offenders, are diverting young people from entering or continuing in the youth justice system. Key examples include:
- The After Hours Crisis Service (formerly the After Hours Bail and Support Service) aims to keep young people out of custody by providing alternative community-based options to being remanded in Bimberi and assisting young people on justice orders to comply with the conditions of their orders.
In 2014-15, AHBSS responded to over 1,411 client-related matters and 16 young people who were in police custody were diverted away from remand in detention while awaiting their court appearance.
- Alcohol and Other Drugs Diversion Program diverts young people away from the youth justice system and refers them to assessment and education programs, including:
- Youth Alcohol Diversion for under-age drinkers who are intoxicated, in possession of, or consuming alcohol in a public place. In 2014-15, 46 young people were diverted to a health assessment and information session.
- Illicit Drug Diversion for people who are found in possession of illicit drugs for personal use alone. In 2014-15, 77 young people were diverted to the program.
- ACT Policing Crime Reduction Education and Diversion (CRED) teamoffers education and awareness presentations in relation to drugs and alcohol in ACT secondary schools. In 2014-15, the CRED team delivered drug and alcohol presentations to over 3,170 school students in 16 secondary school.
- Narrabundah House Indigenous Service Residential Facility provides short to mid-term and crisis accommodation and intensive case management primarily for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young men aged 15 to 18 years who are on community-based justice orders.
Responsive youth justice and support services
The decrease in the number of young people on remand suggests that young people are more likely to receive bail, where appropriate, and that their welfare, safety or other needs are being addressed when on bail with assistance from youth justice and support services. This is consistent with legislative obligations to ensure that detention is used as a last resort for young people and that the justice system acts in the best interests of the child.
Effective Restorative Justice
The participation of young people in restorative justice and compliance with agreements is appearing to prevent young people becoming further involved in the youth justice system.
Although referrals to restorative justice decreased in 2013-14, more young people participated in restorative justice with a higher compliance rate with their agreements, when compared to 2012-13. This means that more young people were successful in achieving conference outcomes, contributing overall to positive outcomes for young people, victims and the ACT community.
Enhanced evidence-based practice
Child and Youth Protection Services have focused on delivering a more effective and evidence-based approach to the supervision of young people on justice orders. Practice improvements have been made to strengthen the skills of case managers to reduce risk factors associated with offending, increase the compliance of young people under supervision with justice orders and strengthen protective factors. These improvements include:
- embedding single case management across youth services in the assessment, supervision and support of young people on justice orders. Single case management encourages staff to work differently and empowers them to be a ‘single point of contact’, not only for young people but also other key service providers and stakeholders. In 2014-15, 170 young people were supported under the single case management model.
- embedding the Youth Justice Support and Intervention Framework to guide staff and agencies in the design and delivery of support, interventions and programs based on a young person’s risk of re-offending (low, medium or high) and their areas of criminogenic need.
- strengthened cultural planning for young people on justice orders. A revised approach to cultural planning was developed through consultation with government and community organisations, with particular consideration of the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.
Strategic approach to youth justice
The Blueprint provides a strategic approach to youth justice in the ACT by establishing a vision to keep young people safe, strong and connected. The intent of the Blueprint is about taking an evidence-based approach, informed by the views of stakeholders across government and community, including the voices of young people and families. This approach has resulted in identifying clear priorities, strategies and initiatives to realise the Blueprint’s vision.
A part of this approach has been the understanding that youth justice outcomes must not be seen in isolation. Instead, shared efforts and a shared responsibility involving services and supports across health, education, justice and the community are recognised as being the most effective way to getting better outcomes for young people involved in, or at risk of coming into contact with the youth justice system.
Initiatives that focus on providing sustainable exits from the youth justice system and transition to the community are demonstrating some success:
- Bendora Throughcare Unit at Bimberi is better preparing young people for their transition into the community. A total of 21 young people have transitioned from Bendora since it was established in 2011. Of this group, about 60% have not re-offended.
- Youth Housing Program continues to support young people (16 to 25 years) who are transitioning from youth justice, care and protection, or homelessness services. In 2014-15, 160 youth tenancies were managed under this program.
Efforts to reduce re-offending by young people under the Blueprint strategies are demonstrating some success in stopping young people from returning to the youth justice system.
Since the development of the Blueprint, the recidivism rate of young people on community-based orders (the largest group subject to youth justice orders) has decreased. In addition, the number of first-time offenders entering the youth justice system has fallen by 53 per cent (126 to 59) from 2009-10 to 2013-14.
In contrast, since 2012, the recidivism rate of young people in detention has increased (however, recidivism rates for young people in detention can fluctuate significantly due to the small number of young people in detention).
Higher levels of recidivism for young people in detention, combined with a decrease in the number of young people entering the youth justice system and a decrease in the number of first-time offenders, may also indicate that detention is targeting young people with a more serious offending history.
This also suggests that most of what remains of the youth crime problem in the ACT is primarily a recidivism issue.
The Human Services Blueprint sets a vision that: All Canberrans have the capability to fully participate in strong, healthy, safe and inclusive communities. The Human Services Blueprint, through Better Services, is reforming how education, justice, health and community services work together so that the system can intervene early in people’s lives, and prevent the need for intensive high cost service responses.
The Blueprint for Youth Justice forms part of the Better Services reform and is demonstrating how ameliorating risk factors through early intervention, prevention and diversion is achieving results for children, young people and their families. This direction will continue to lead us into 2016 and beyond.
The youth justice sector sits at a cross-road between the social and justice sectors. How well young people navigate this space is very much shaped by the risk factors they are exposed to, and the protective factors around them.
As outlined in the Blueprint, long-term predictors for risk include:
- socio-economic disadvantage and discrimination;
- family breakdown;
- involvement in out of home care;
- poor physical health or mental ill-health;
- intergenerational trauma and violence;
- neglect; and
- individual and family drug or alcohol misuse.
Different individuals respond to risk and protective factors in different ways. While not every child or young person with one or more of these factors will come into contact with the youth justice system, without the presence of protective factors, the likelihood of this occurring can increase.
Protective factors such as supportive environments and strong bonds with family, mentors, schools and a young person’s community may moderate or reduce the influence of risk factors. In some cases, they can decrease the likelihood of anti-social and offending behaviour. Young people’s healthy beliefs, attitudes and behavioural standards also have a role in mitigating risk factors.
While the Blueprint’s current direction will continue, strategic work from 2016 will be around strengthening linkages to significant work that is already occurring to support young people and families who face long-term predictors of risk.
This is work that sits alongside initiatives that focus on supporting young people to stay connected to family and friends, engaged in school, training or employment and increase their resilience and wellbeing.
Opportunities to consolidate the work of the Blueprint that enhance responses to long-term predictors of risk and strengthen protective factors are supported by the following:
- the trauma-informed approach to support children, young people and families involved in the out of home care system through A Step up for Our Kids (Out of Home Care Strategy 2015-2020);
- the strengthening of support to children, young people and families through the combining of statutory functions of the youth justice and care and protection systems with the establishment of Child and Youth Protection Services;
- the reform of the ACT’s human services system set out in the community and government’s Human Services Blueprint and ‘Better Services’. Key initiatives such as Strengthening Families focus on early intervention and wraparound support for families;
- a focus on ‘strong families’ as the platform for supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and families through the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Agreement 2015-18;
- enhanced understanding of, and response to long term trauma through exposure to family violence through the ACT Prevention of Violence Against Women and Children Strategy 2011-17;
- a commitment to justice reinvestment and addressing the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people through the Justice Reinvestment and Reform Strategy and the ACT Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Justice Partnership 2015 18; and
- ongoing initiatives under the ACT Youth Commitment to ensure that no young person is lost from education and is equipped to engage in training and/or employment.
The strategies and initiatives outlined above are not intended to be a comprehensive ‘list’ of work that is occurring across community and government.
The aim is to highlight the common threads that align with the Blueprint’s focus on intervening early in the life of problems so that these do not escalate to require more intensive support (early intervention and prevention).
Lastly, in looking to the future we will be turning our attention to ensuring that the Blueprint continues to be based on an evidence-based approach that focuses on identifying and achieving outcomes.
A key piece of work during 2016 will be the completion of the outcomes evaluation for the Blueprint’s first three years of implementation. While robust annual data is critical in checking progress and trends, it tells only part of the story about understanding ‘what is working’.
This work will involve the evaluation of the Blueprint’s goals, objectives, assumptions and program logic to assess whether implementation has achieved the original intended aims.
Importantly, the evaluation will assist in identifying and developing baseline data and measures.
This work will include analysis of:
- youth justice supervision and detention;
- offending and re-offending;
- youth justice supervision of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people;
- diversion measures/activities;
- availability and use of services;
- cost of supervision/services/initiatives;
- early intervention and prevention initiatives;
- reintegration following detention; and
- community safety.
The evaluation will deliver a comprehensive and evidence-based picture of how the youth justice system is working under the Blueprint. This work will determine the quality and impact of the Blueprint’s implementation, including its ability to deliver value and sustainability.
Importantly, the evaluation will drive the future direction of work under the Blueprint in measuring our efforts to keep young people safe, strong and connected.