Hon Alison Xamon MLC, Greens spokesperson for Corrective Services, has last in Parliament again called on the McGowan government to act on its election commitment to reform WA’s youth justice system.
Ms Xamon said the adverse findings against the (then) Department of Corrective Services by the WA State Coroner in her inquest into the deaths of 13 children and young people in the Kimberley provided further evidence that the current youth justice model completely failed to meet the needs of vulnerable Aboriginal children.
“Research clearly shows that the earlier young people get involved in the criminal justice system, the worse the likely outcome, and the more likely they are to be involved in the justice system in the future. And conversely, the vast majority of children who are dealt with outside the criminal justice system do not reoffend,” said Ms Xamon.
“As the Coroner so confrontingly documents in her report, the lives of many of these children are mired by chaos and violence, poor physical and mental health, disability and substance abuse” said Ms Xamon.
“We should not be criminalising young people whose behaviour is a symptom and a cry for help.”
Ms Xamon said it was clear that successive governments had failed spectacularly, with 58.7% of young people returning to detention within two years of release, 72% of young people in youth justice detention being Aboriginal, and Aboriginal children (5–17 years old) dying from suicide at five times the rate of their non-Aboriginal peers.
“I understand from media reporting that there have been at least 35 suicides of First Nations people in just the first 12 weeks of the year – and that three were children only 12 years old,” said Ms Xamon.
“This situation, absolutely, is a crisis – and will continue to be so unless we actually take notice, and start to do things differently.”
Ms Xamon said that despite introducing youth reoffending targets and making a range of announcements related to youth justice – including proposing Machinery of Government changes and considering removing girls and young children from Banksia Hill Detention Centre – the McGowan Government had done nothing concrete to reform youth justice.
“I call on the Government to ensure there is clear prioritisation of the needs of vulnerable children and young people when it brings down the 2019-2020 budget next month. Announcing targets, proposal and intentions without any change to the way things are done is simply setting yourself up to fail WA children yet again.”