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QLS urges state to heed evidence

Queensland Law Society representatives Tamara Walsh, Carolyn Juratowich and Damian Bartholomew at the public hearing at Parliament House today.

Queensland Law Society (QLS) representatives displayed a wealth of knowledge and experience in children’s law at the public hearing on the Inquiry into Youth Justice Reform in Brisbane today.

QLS Children’s Law Committee Chair Damian Bartholomew, and member Carolyn Juratowich, with QLS Human Rights and Public Law Committee member Professor Tamara Walsh, fielded a range of questions from the Youth Justice Reform Select Committee at Parliament House on the contentious issue.

Mr Bartholomew said QLS acknowledged that youth justice had a significant impact on the community.

“We recognise the significance of trauma on victims and their families and those communities that have been impacted by crime,” he said.

“We also recognise that children in the youth justice system have a multitude of disadvantage and have often been victims themselves.

“The Queensland Law Society is dedicated to supporting measures that keep our children and young people and communities safe.

“In order to promote these objectives, in our opinion, there must be a strong focus on evidence-based policy, legislation and programs.

“In providing our evidence today we note that we are apolitical and seek to promote good law for the public good.”

Topics canvased by the select committee included serious repeat offenders (SRO) declarations, fast-track sentencing, drug abuse and restorative justice orders.

Professor Walsh emphasised that the number of SROs in the state was relatively small, about 500, and the “measure of serious repeat offenders highly correlated with the adverse childhood experiences measure”.

“The reality that Queensland needs to face is that community safety and helping children are not actually in tension. What the literature suggests to us is that we can do both at the same time and in fact, if we’re not doing one, we will not achieve the other,” she said.

“If we are not providing support to these children, if we are not supporting their very basic fundamental material needs, and I’m talking about housing, love, education, these are the things these children lack, and if we do not provide children with these things, the community will not be safe.

“If we continue to alienate those children, and we continue to subject them to periods of custody and it’s not necessarily about the length of custody, it’s the revolving door, it’s the in and out, where there’s no chance to develop any community links, there’s no chance to get to know peers, there’s no chance to have positive teachers involved in their lives over a long period of time, then the community simply will not be safe.

“If the suggestion is that this relatively small number of repeat serious offenders should be put somewhere and where can we place them that is appropriate, then the literature would suggest that small facilities that focus on education and training, that try to identify children’s strengths, and try to give them hope so that they can see an identity and a possibility for themselves outside of that environment, the literature would suggest that that is the way to go – and that’s the international literature.”

Mr Bartholomew pointed out that a difficulty lay in the fact therapeutic intervention was available to children only when they entered the youth justice system.

“I think also what we need to ensure is that, when we are talking about these therapeutic programs and alternatives, that people might be suggesting, that they need to be available to young people, not just because they are offending, so young people from traumatised backgrounds, young people who are in care and who have been exposed to trauma and need assistance, those programs need to be available for anybody and we don’t want to stigmatise those programs with just young offenders,”  he said.

Ms Juratowich said restorative justice should not be regarded as a “soft option”, and a young person found entering a conference room “very confronting”.

“It is a far more challenging option than to get the option of a reprimand or a good behaviour bond, even a probation, and it takes an enormous amount of courage for people to participate in that process,” she said.

“We encourage it as legal professionals because we know it is evidence based and we know that long term, it can be very, very helpful for a child to understand, in a real way, the consequences of their actions.

“We also know, from representing people in those conferences, that it can be an incredibly powerful experience in terms of a victim understanding what’s happened, and also no longer being afraid when they see the tiny little 10-year-old in the room, or the 14-year-old, and hear of their experiences.

“It can be very beneficial for victims in terms of helping them to feel more at ease and to feel safe. The benefits for the children is to assist them in developing both empathy and an understanding of the consequences.”

Ms Juratowich said sometimes a series of restorative justice conferences might be necessary for a child to reform, “like a child learning maths at school”.

“There can be some really creative outcomes from those conferences,” she said. “The difficulty at the moment is that we’re experiencing quite significant delays, so that a child who is in court today, what you’d really like is to have that conference very quickly after that, in the same way as you wouldn’t give a penalty to a child in your own house for something they did last year.

“We’re seeing delays of six, eight, 12 months before these processes start. It’s too late – the child has moved on, often the victim has probably moved on, and I think there’s some frustrations sometimes from victims who say ‘I’ve agreed to this process, I’m really keen for this process’, and then it’s so delayed that it can lose some of its effectiveness.”

Written submissions to the inquiry can be made until 10 January 2024.

Read the QLS submission here.

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