Juvenile offender identity — protection
Date:Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Extract from Hansard
HON ALISON XAMON (East Metropolitan) [10.06 pm]: I rise tonight to talk about an important issue; that is, the protection of juvenile offenders’ identities. I will explain why this is an issue that needs to be raised tonight. Firstly, I want to note that the protection of the identity of children who offend is a fundamental principle that guides our juvenile justice system, and we need to remember that it is enshrined in domestic and international instruments, including in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which Australia ratified in December 1990. This convention recognises that children, by reason of their physical and mental immaturity, need special safeguards in care, including appropriate legal protection. Article 16 of the convention protects children from arbitrary interference of their privacy, and article 40 states that youthful offenders must be treated in a manner that takes into account the child’s age and the desirability of promoting the child’s reintegration and the child’s assuming a constructive role in society.
Juveniles are granted these protections for a number of important reasons, including preventing this information from becoming an obstacle to their educational, social or employment opportunities. There is a clear public interest in the primacy of rehabilitation of young people. If we do not protect the identity of children, including information about the offences they may have committed as children, they are never able to move on from their mistakes. Some of us here tonight may not have wanted some of the behaviour we demonstrated as teenagers to follow us into adult life. Many juvenile offenders are not recidivists, and go on to lead productive adult lives and they must be given every support and opportunity to do so.
In recent years, we have been seeing the gradual undermining of the protection of juvenile offenders’ identities in favour of politically expedient and populist positions. The prohibitive behaviour order legislation, which I spoke out against at the time of its introduction and sought to amend, is the most obvious example. But the specific issue I want to raise tonight concerns the education and training certificates issued to juveniles who undergo educational training while in the juvenile justice system in this state either on remand or in detention. In early March I submitted a question on notice to the Minister for Corrective Services asking whether the academic records or certificates received by young people within WA’s juvenile justice system contained any information that indicates the training was undertaken in a juvenile justice facility. The question was not a shot in the dark; it was in response to information I had received that this was potentially an issue. The response I received was —
No. The academic records or certificates of achievement received by these students do not contain any information which indicates that the education or training was undertaken in a juvenile justice facility.
Unfortunately, the actual situation is not as straightforward as that answer might indicate. It is true that there is no Department of Corrective Services logo emblazoned across the certificates; they are issued under the name of a particular training provider. I have decided that I will not name this particular provider in Parliament because I do not want to contribute to making this issue even worse for juvenile offenders. The concern I have is that it is extremely easy for any prospective employer to find out that this training provider is in fact the Department of Corrective Services. To find out where the training was undertaken, all someone needs to do is type the provider’s name into Google and specify that they are looking for an Australian web address. When I did this last week, the first result was the Department of Corrective Services’ webpage. I tried again, googling the acronym rather than the expanded title of the provider plus the word “training”, and once again the first two results, once the search engine was assured that I had not misspelt anything, included “corrective services” and “prisoners” in their summaries. There are very few employers who do not know how to use Google, and with the rapid increase in the provision of private training providers, I have to say that googling to check the bona fides of an unknown provider is an increasingly common occurrence. I am not saying it is a certainty, but there is reasonable potential that the qualifications a juvenile receives in detention or on remand in WA can identify them as having had involvement with the Department of Corrective Services. I am really concerned about this. We should encourage young people to use their time in detention or on remand, if they are unfortunate enough to have ended up there, in a positive way. We should certainly not do anything to discourage their participation in education or training, which is one of the critical links for them to be able to turn their lives around.
I am not in any way suggesting that the training undertaken at correctional facilities in WA is substandard; in fact, my understanding is that the programs delivered by the provider in question are great. The provider’s work in this area has been recognised through awards and at conferences. I note that the same provider delivers training to adults who are in prison or undertaking community-based orders. Obviously, there are not the same principles around protecting the privacy of adult offenders, and many employers may rightly require prospective employees to undergo criminal record checks. That is not what I am taking issue with tonight. However, juveniles are a different matter. There are very important reasons that we protect their privacy and it is impossible to get away from the fact that significant stigma is attached to having spent time in a correctional institution. I know that research has found that many employers reject people with a criminal record for a variety of reasons, such as they see them as undesirable or outside the employer’s experience et cetera, and people may intuitively understand that that is the case anyway.
In any event, there is real potential for the practice of these certificates to impact negatively on rehabilitation efforts by acting as a further barrier towards employment and community integration. Therefore, by allowing these certificates to identify juveniles as former inmates, the government is placing these young people in a terrible position. They can choose to provide copies of their qualifications to a potential employer and run the risk of being judged and possibly missing out on jobs as a result, or they can choose not to provide the information and may miss out on employment for that reason. These young people are already disadvantaged. We know that the majority of children who end up in these places have had rough lives and are really fighting against it to start with. They have been put in detention, they face many challenges, and I think it is critical that we do everything possible to ensure we do not put any more challenges in their way. Therefore, I call on the Minister for Corrective Services to urgently review the situation to see how this can be resolved. I understand that juvenile offenders used to emerge with training certificates from TAFE and they were of course generic, which meant that there was no way the certificates could be identified as having been obtained while in juvenile detention. Perhaps some sort of arrangement could be made with a TAFE provider or there could be some other creative solution to ensure that there is some way to brand this training without it being connected in any way with the Department of Corrective Services. Again, that does not mean I have any objection to this particular provider providing that training. In any event, we need to ensure that any training that is undertaken cannot in any way link children back to a past of offending that they may well want to leave behind them. We should absolutely be doing everything we can to make sure that they are able to do that.
House adjourned at 10.16 pm