Rehabilitation through detention


20.13 The current operation of juvenile detention centres is being subjected to two different pressures. First the centres are being subjected to increasing scrutiny through government inquiries and external reviews to address deficiencies in their operations in the interests of rehabilitation.[15] Second there has also been a strong push for the increasing use of punitive detention measures.[16]

Rehabilitative potential of detention

20.14 The ability of the current detention system to rehabilitate young offenders is increasingly in doubt. A number of submissions to this Inquiry acknowledged its limitations.[17] Detention seems to criminalise young people further. The Law Society of NSW referred to anecdotal evidence that detainees learn to ‘play the game’ to make themselves eligible for early release and then re-offend following their return to society.[18] The Townsville Community Legal Service pointed out

[r]esearch has shown that prisons often create institutionalisation or dependency, are a perfect training ground for criminal activity, as well as a network base for meeting criminals and leave children with no knowledge of basic life skills for reintegration into society.[19]

20.15 The Open Door Youth Foundation also noted the deficiencies in detention as a form of crime prevention.

It is simply not true that if you lock up more and more offenders you will reduce crime.[20]

20.16 Indeed, some commentators have pointed to evidence that punitive measures such as detention have a net destructive effect, in that they actually worsen the rates of recidivism.[21] In addition to failing to deal with the underlying causes of criminal activity, it also appears that detention does not protect community safety. As one submission noted

[Detention] can create a revolving door. Children can become more aggressive towards the community and each other, and this can result in being in trouble with the law again.[22]

Rehabilitative practice in detention centres

20.17 Clearly there will always be some children for whom a sentence of detention is considered necessary as a last resort. The Inquiry has concluded, however, that the policies, practices and procedures in juvenile detention facilities must be assessed to ensure that these children are rehabilitated. Judge McGuire of the Children’s Court of Queensland has stated

[i]f such offenders are detained in a detention centre they are out of harm’s way for the time being and cannot commit crimes against society. However, detention will not work, if when they come out, they are more criminally inclined than when they went in.[23]

20.18 The importance of rehabilitation in the juvenile justice system is recognised to some extent in legislation in most States and Territories.[24] However, a number of these legislative provisions point to the importance of re-integrating young detainees into the community, without making rehabilitation the explicit, primary aim of detention.[25] Other jurisdictions refer to rehabilitation in terms of punishment.[26]

20.19 Most governments are attempting to bring a more rehabilitative focus to the operation of their detention centres. For instance, rehabilitation is emphasised as a goal of detention in a number of detention policy documents and procedures manuals.[27] Structured programs currently provided in detention centres cover areas such as education and employment, recreation, independent living skills, drug and alcohol counselling, pastoral care and anger management. Some centres also provide specialist programs and services, such as sex offender counselling, relapse prevention and victim empathy courses.[28]

20.20 Despite this, it appears that rehabilitation aims are not being implemented in practice. A large number of submissions to the Inquiry expressed concerns about the current operation of juvenile detention centres.[29] These concerns included lack of adequate living standards, case management, access to family and community contact and education and training programs. Survey responses from young people in detention also indicated their high level of dissatisfaction with the operation of the system. For instance, 45 (45%) of the 101 respondents said that juvenile detention centres do not meet the needs of young people.[30]

20.21 Inadequate funding for rehabilitation programs in juvenile detention facilities contributes to this failure. A submission from the Townsville Community Legal Service pointed out

[w]hilst political rhetoric supports rehabilitation as a primary objective of detention, it is often not matched with funding. Adequately funded rehabilitation programs are critical in any detention centre if it is going to be successful as a means of dealing with criminal behaviour in our society.[31]

20.22 Rehabilitation is described in policy documents and procedures manuals as an aim of juvenile detention but this has not prevented the establishment of punitive detention models. In Western Australia, for example, a work camp for young males was established despite the fact that the Management Philosophy of the Juvenile Justice Directorate emphasised rehabilitation as a key focus of detention.[32] Camp Kurli Murri was established in 1995 near the remote town of Laverton 960 kilometres from Perth. The camp was opened following community concern in relation to juvenile crime and ‘repeat offenders’.[33]

20.23 The work camp concept stems from US military-style correctional camps which are used as an alternative to conventional prison for young adult offenders. The US camps are designed to break down individualism and impose rigid conformity by using physical exertion, stress and shock mechanisms to ‘inculcate behavioural and attitudinal change’. Some of the shock mechanisms used include verbal abuse and bullying.[34] The camps are aimed at punishing offenders and rehabilitating them through hardship. But their success rates seem low. Despite this, these camps are supported by some sectors of the media and public, stemming from a perception that they will address the perceived ‘youth crime wave’.[35]

20.24 The Western Australian camp followed the US model in that it adopted a highly structured and disciplined regime and isolated the offenders through its physical remoteness and its policy of no visits for inmates.[36] That policy was particularly significant in that it was contrary to a number of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.[37] The proposal for the work camp was criticised widely, including by the National Children’s and Youth Law Centre, as ineffectual in rehabilitating offenders and expensive.[38] Nonetheless, the Government proceeded with it. Camp Kurli Murri operated for a mere 18 months at a cost of approximately $3.4 million[39] and was closed in 1996.[40] In its place, an ‘Intensive Supervision Centre’ was established in March 1997 at Warminda to deal with persistent offenders. This new Centre is a significant improvement on the work camp and is based on a rehabilitative and restorative rather than punitive approach.[41]

20.25 Rehabilitation needs to be established nationally as the primary aim of detention.[42] This is particularly so given the increasing push towards punitive measures in some jurisdictions.[43] As commentators have pointed out, although punishment is rarely cited as an aim of juvenile detention in the 1990s, it is a prevalent function of juvenile detention.[44] Rehabilitation is beneficial not only to young offenders, but also to the community by assisting the young person to reintegrate into the community. Rehabilitation assists crime prevention by assisting to reduce the commission of further offences.

Recommendation 255 Legislation in all jurisdictions should state that the aim of detention is rehabilitation of young offenders. The legislative provisions should reflect rehabilitative principles set out below.

Implementation. The Attorney-General through SCAG should encourage all States and Territories that have not already done so to ensure that rehabilitation is incorporated into the relevant legislation as the primary aim of detention. This legislation should be implemented in future decision making about juvenile detention centres. National standards for juvenile justice should incorporate this principle.

[15] See paras 20.39–40.

[16] See paras 19.4, 19.50–64.

[17] eg SA Dept of Family and Community Services IP Submission 110; Townsville Community Legal Service IP Submission 181; Law Society of NSW IP Submission 209; Church Network for Youth Justice IP Submission 212.

[18] Law Society of NSW IP Submission 209.

[19] Townsville Community Legal Service IP Submission 181.

[20] Open Door Youth Foundation IP Submission 200.

[21] J McGuire & P Priestley ‘Reviewing what works: Past, present and future’ in J McGuire What Works: Reducing Reoffending — Guidelines from Research and Practice John Wiley & Sons Urichester 1996, 11.

[22] Townsville Community Legal Service IP Submission 181.

[23] Children’s Court of Qld Third Annual Report 1995–96 Children’s Court of Qld Brisbane 1996, 50. See also The Integrated Approach: The Philosophy and Directions of Juvenile Detention Qld Corrective Services Commission Brisbane 1997, 27.

[24] See para 19.2.

[25] eg in Vic the legislation simply states that determination of sentences must take into account the desirability of allowing the education, training or employment of the child to continue without interruption or disturbance but does not specify the need to rehabilitate the child: Children and Young Persons Act 1989 (Vic) s 139. See also Children (Detention Centres) Act 1987 (NSW) s 4.

[26] eg in Qld the principles of juvenile justice in the legislation state that it is said that the child should be punished in a way that will give the child the opportunity to develop in responsible, beneficial and socially acceptable ways: Juvenile Justice Act 1992 (Qld) s 4. The aim of rehabilitation has been obscured further by amendments to this legislation that place community protection as a priority ahead of rehabilitation: Juvenile Justice Legislation Amendment Act 1996 (Qld) s 4.

[27] eg The Integrated Approach: The Philosophy and Directions of Juvenile Detention Qld Corrective Services Commission Brisbane 1997; Management Philosophy of the Juvenile Justice Directorate WA Ministry of Justice Perth 1993; ‘Juvenile Justice Mission Statement and Objectives’ in Juvenile Justice Centre Operations Manual vol 1 Vic Dept of Health and Community Services Melbourne 1994.

[28] eg Riverbank Detention Centre and Longmore Detention Centre Program booklets, WA; New Directions for Juvenile Justice: Specialist Support Services Vic Dept of Health and Community Services Melbourne June 1995 Pub No 92/0123.

[29] eg Aboriginal Legal Service of WA IP Submission 75; Aboriginal Justice Council of WA IP Submission 79; Youth Advocacy CentreIP Submission 120; Federation of Community Legal Centres (Vic) IP Submission 129; Townsville Community Legal Service IP Submission 181; Law Society of NSW IP Submission 209; Church Network for Youth Justice IP Submission 212.

[30] Survey Question 68. There were 208 young people in detention who were asked this question. 101 of those young people responded to this question.

[31] Townsville Community Legal Service IP Submission 181. See also P Reberger Public Hearing Submission Sydney 26 April 1996.

[32] Management Philosophy of the Juvenile Justice Directorate WA Ministry of Justice Perth 1993.

[33] See paras 4.13, 19.50–64. The WA camp is discussed further in P Omaji ‘Critical issues in managing youth offenders: A review of Western Australia’s recent initiatives’ Paper Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice: Towards 2000 and Beyond Conference AIC Adelaide 26–27 June 1997, 21–2.

[34] L Atkinson ‘Boot Camps and justice: A contradiction in terms?’ (1995)(46) Trends and Issues in Crime and Criminal Justice 5.

[35] See also paras 4.13, 18.3, 19.4.

[36] id 2–5.

[37] National Report vol 3 AGPS Canberra 1991 recs 168–170.

[38] E Della Torre Covenant on Civil and Political Rights: Submission on Australia’s Compliance National Children’s and Youth Law Centre Sydney 1994.

[39] P Russo, Juvenile Custodial Services WA Ministry of Justice Letter 2 October 1997.

[40] L Atkinson ‘ Juvenile corrective institutions’ in A Borowski & I O’Connor (eds) Juvenile Crime, Justice and Corrections Longman Melbourne 1997, 414.

[41] A Wells ‘New directions in juvenile justice in WA’ Paper Juvenile Crime and Juvenile Justice: Toward 2000 and Beyond Conference Adelaide 26–27 June 1997, 9–11: the centre provides intensive treatment in areas such as problem-solving abilities, relapse prevention strategies and victim empathy.

[42] This was recommended in NSW by Youth Justice Coalition Kids in Justice: A Blueprint for the 90s Youth Justice Coalition Sydney 1990 recs 12, 97.

[43] See paras 4.13, 18.3, 19.4.

[44] L Atkinson ‘Juvenile correctional institutions’ in A Borowski & I O’Connor (eds) Juvenile Crime, Justice and Corrections Longman Melbourne 1997, 402.