Youth justice administration bill

In Parliament - Thursday, 19 November 2015

Mr DULUK (Davenport) (16:51:04): I also rise to make a small contribution to this debate and to echo the sentiments of the member for Morialta who very truly has had a long interest in these matters and who has really put the case quite well in his contribution to the house.

I will not go through the bill in its detail, but I picked up two themes when I was having a read of it that I would like to discuss and flesh out, and they are to do with education and disabilities. Education is the key to future prosperity as we all know, and in the minister's second reading explanation she touches on some of the feedback she received from her Youth Justice staff when they were interviewed for their input in the bill.The staff did raise several key points for consideration that they would like to see improved in this legislation. One of those points was the inclusion of, and I quote, 'the provisions which provide greater flexibility in managing older residents accommodated at the Adelaide Youth Training Centre', and one of these very important accommodations is that of education.

The staff in the department, those who are working within the juvenile justice system, understand that, quite often, education is key to rehabilitation and redemption. Additionally, the government's Youth Justice Strategic Policy Paper 2015 (in the companion to the draft Youth Justice Bill) states:

Children and young people involved in the criminal justice system are more likely to have had contact with the child protection system, be disengaged from education, experience disadvantage and poverty and are more likely to experience mental health issues.

To me it is imperative that offenders be given the opportunity for education and involvement with their families and support networks whilst in detention. The policy within South Australia—and it has been for many years—is that a young person's family, both immediate and extended, forms a key role in supporting a young person to lead a non-offending lifestyle. This bill appeals rightly to sensible party policy as it integrates family involvement in the rehabilitation of young offenders. This would suggest that the reform will be welcome within the community due to the focus on family support networks, which I believe it will be.

Section 27 of this bill provides powers for the chief executive to implement educational programs in a way which they 'think fit'. Nevertheless, according to section 75 of our own education act, it is compulsory for a child to be enrolled into a school from age six to 16, but the inconsistency here under the Youth Justice Administration Bill is where it states that the chief executive must, as much as reasonably practical, encourage a resident of a training centre for their further education.

To me the word 'encourage' is inadequate in this bill and in that context. The word 'encourage' does not necessarily suggest that training centre residents will be made to attend further education whilst in detention, rather it is a choice to do so, and perhaps in the committee stage this is something we can flesh out further. To me the result is ambiguous, and conflicts with the principle that education is paramount and compulsory for South Australians under the age of 16.

This bill, the Youth Justice Administration Bill, provides people under the age of 16 with the ability to not attend school. The bill aims to rehabilitate the offenders, and an offender lacking education is less likely to assimilate back into society and more likely to stay within the justice system for many years. British academic Richard Wilkinson stated that education lasts a lifetime. According to Wilkinson, little or no education results in poor health, cognitive skills and emotional dysfunction as an adult. Therefore, along with having access to good health care, education is a key to preventing unemployment and poor housing standards.

However, if this bill is to be successful in closing the gap when young people leave the juvenile justice system and the Adelaide Training Centre, in my view the legislation should have some consistency. Therefore the word 'encourage' should be changed to 'make' to ensure that we provide the best education, as soon as possible, for young offenders to cater for their educational needs.

This bill also considers young people with a disability within the juvenile justice system. It is recognised that the chief executive officer, through the department, must give consideration to a young person's cultural background, development and cognitive capacity, ability or disability, and any special needs of the youth. A young person with a disability is not defined within the act; however, within the Disability Services Act there is obviously an interpretation of a person with a disability and I think there is a need for this definition to be included in the bill—and once again this is something to be looked at in committee—to understand what a young person with a disability needs, given that 18.5 per cent of Australia's population has been diagnosed with a disability of some sort.

The University of New South Wales recently undertook a study which discovered that people with a disability, including a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment, are six times more likely to be in detention than young people without a disability. This is significant when comparing it with one in three young Aboriginals who are within detention. However, people with a disability require more social, medical and educational attention than others due to the impairments from which they suffer

The most practical avenue for a juvenile with a disability was recently cited in that New South Wales study by McCausland, Baldry, Johnson and Cohen. The case study they used was quite revealing. It described a 20-year-old Indigenous person within the New South Wales juvenile system who had an intellectual disability and a number of mental and cognitive conditions. This resulted in a cost to the taxpayer of $5.5 million for that young person to be caught up within that juvenile system. Obviously, this was a person with an intellectual disability who was already from a disadvantaged community.

The cost resulted from the accumulation of 356 police incidents, 604 days in custody and 270 days in hospital for this young person. As the authors established, if early intervention were supported and were in place in these matters, as in the case of the offender in New South Wales, it probably would have resulted in that juvenile not entering the justice system and approximately $2.4 million of taxpayers' money could have been saved by the time that person was 20 years old. This is a significant cost, when we take into account the high rate of youth with a disability in the juvenile justice system, and as a government, as a department, as a parliament we should do all that we can to make sure that people, especially those with disabilities, do not get unnecessarily caught up in our youth justice system.

Those are really the two points I wanted to raise on this bill. Our youth detention centres should be setting the standard and should be doing all they can to rehabilitate and reintegrate our young offenders, and provide them with the ability to transform their lives, as a member for Morphett alluded to.