#YoungVoicesCount: Re-imagining Justice for Youth in Australia

Dr Faith Gordon1, Shelley  Turner1, Clinical Associate Professor   Raewyn Mutch2, Hayley Passmore2, Associate Professor Thalia Anthony3, Professor Harry Blagg2

1Monash University, Melbourne, Australia,

2University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia,

3University of Technology Sydney, Sydney, Australia

A critical reflection on ‘giving voice’ to justice-involved young people

Presenter: Shelley Turner

Directly including justice-involved children and young people in research emphasises that they are worthy of being listened to and may help counter the silencing of their voices once they become mandated clients of the state (Naylor 2015).  Young people’s accounts of their experiences in the youth justice system may also serve to ‘humanise’ these for others, and provide new and unique insights for policy and practice (Drake, Fergusson & Briggs 2014; Barry 2006, 2009, 2013). It can also be an important avenue through which to help realise the intentions of Article 12 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, 1989; for children to express their views about matters that pertain to them and for these views to be considered by decision-makers (Wilson & Wilks 2013).  However, for researchers who want to work with justice-involved young people, the interface between the concurrent social labels of ‘young person’ and ‘offender’, presents some unique and specific challenges (Holt and Pamment 2011). Yet, there is very little in the literature about how to manage the methodological, ethical and practical challenges of trying to ‘give voice’ to the experiences of justice-involved young people. This paper discusses some key challenges faced by the researcher in a study that tries to privilege the voices and perspectives of justice-involved young people and a critical examination of the responses taken to these issues.

The Tipping Point: Translation of research outcomes from the first prevalence study of Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder among sentenced youth in Australia

Presenter: Clinical Associate Professor Raewyn Mutch & Hayley Passmore

Objectives: Neurodevelopmental impairments such as Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) can predispose young people to engagement with the law. This presentation will discuss how translation of research outcomes from the first prevalence study of FASD among sentenced young people in Australia has been a tipping point for change; change across health, child protection and justice policy and practices. Key drivers for change, their hierarchy, utility and capacity for generalisation to other jurisdictions will be described.

Methods: Screening and multidisciplinary neurodevelopmental clinical assessments were completed on young people, aged 10 years to 17 years and 11 months, and sentenced to detention in the only youth detention centre in Western Australia. FASD was diagnosed according to the Australian Guide to the Diagnosis of FASD.

Results: 99 young people completed a full assessment (88% of those consented; 60% of the 166 approached to participate); 93% were male and 74% were Aboriginal. These young people were a representative sample of all young people in detention in Western Australia. 88 young people (89%) had at least one domain of severe neurodevelopmental impairment, and 36 were diagnosed with FASD, a prevalence of 36% (95% CI 27% to 46%). The majority of young people with FASD had severe impairment in academic, attention, executive functioning and/or language domains.

Conclusions: These findings highlight the vulnerability of young people with neurodevelopmental impairments involved with the justice system. Translation of the research outcomes have become a tipping point for change to policy and practice across Australia.

What happened to the children in the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the NT

Presenter: Associate Professor Thalia Anthony

In 2016, Aboriginal young people came forward to tell their stories of the trauma they endured in youth detention in the Northern Territory, Australia. These stories were punctuated by chemical gassing, mechanical restraints, hooding, forcible strip searching and other forms of torture. The announcement of a Royal Commission to inquire into the harm in youth detention was regarded as an opportunity for transformative story telling. Instead, the process marginalised and alienated the voices of young people. This paper examines the processes and findings of the Royal Commission into Youth Detention in the NT to demonstrate that children in detention were failed at every stage of the inquiry. It relies on a conceptual framework of relationality to show that the zero-sum approach adopted by the Royal Commission that held out the state as the problem or the solution had the effect of re-centering, rather than de-centering, the state in Indigenous young peoples’ lives which contradicted the cries of Aboriginal young people.

From Re-imagining to Decolonising: New Directions in Indigenous Youth Justice

Presenter: Professor Harry Blagg

Through a process of what I call ‘decolonisation through stealth’, place-based Aboriginal organisations are taking the lead in developing alternative mechanisms for reducing contact with the White Settler justice system.  We have reached the point where it is clear that the ‘punitive turn’ did not deliver a crime free society, rather it entrenched Indigenous over-representation on a massive scale. In partnership with health and justice agencies, police and courts, Indigenous organisations are developing ‘on-country’ programs that tackle the underlying causes of over-representation and provide mechanisms for dealing with complex problems such as FASD and inter-generational trauma.

Re-imaging Justice for Youth through a Children’s Rights Lens: A Case Study

Presenter: Dr. Faith Gordon

November 2019 marked the 30 year anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).  The CRC is one of the most ratified rights treaties in history and it plays an important role in defining as well as upholding the rights of children. The Australian Government signed up to the Convention in 1990.  Despite this, Australia still does not have a national strategy or national measures to ensure the implementation of appropriate protection of children’s rights (Fitz-Gibbon and Gordon, 2018). In the context of the criminal justice system, significant concerns about the state of children’s rights in Australia, have been made at international, national and localised levels (UNCRC, 2012). One such example is the findings of The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (2017), which confirmed extensive human rights breaches, with children detained in the Northern Territory being mistreated, verbally abused, isolated or left alone for long periods. Similar concerns about gross violations of the rights of children held in detention and in other levels of the criminal justice system in Australia are echoed in the recent UNICEF national coalition NGO report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, entitled: The Children’s Report (2018). The report’s key recommendations call on the Australian Government to immediately review and amend youth justice legislation, policies and practices to ensure that all children are treated consistent with the Beijing Rules and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. This paper will explore case studies on pre-charge and post-charge identification of children in conflict with the law in the digital age. Drawing on qualitative research data, it will argue that the ramifications of policies and decisions which ‘name and shame’ have long lasting consequences for the lives, experiences and prospects of children and young people.  Such policies and practices also clearly breach the UNCRC, Beijing Rules and the Riyadh Guidelines.


Dr. Faith Gordon is a Lecturer in Criminology at Monash University and Director of the Interdisciplinary International Youth Justice Network. Faith has developed an international scholarly and advocacy reputation in the area of the rights of children in conflict with the law and specifically in the dynamics of youth justice, the media’s treatment of youth, young people’s engagement with the media, policing and legal responses.  Her first sole-authored monograph built on her PhD study and post-doctoral funded project, involving large-scale fieldwork involved over 150 children, as well as workshops with journalists, editors, policymakers, politicians, police and those working in the NGO sector.  Faith’s research has been referenced by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (2015); in Judicial Review hearings at the N Ireland High Court (2016; 2017) and most recently, in the UK Court of Appeal (2019).

Shelley Turner is a Senior Lecturer in Social Work at Monash University and the lead curriculum designer for the Masters qualifying program.  She has worked for more than fifteen years in youth justice in New South Wales and Victoria in direct practice, clinical management and senior policy roles.

Clinical Associate Professor Raewyn Mutch is a specialist paediatrician with qualifications recognised across three disciplines (i) general paediatrics, (ii) community paediatrics and (iii) respiratory medicine.Raewyn is a consultant paediatrician in General Paediatrics and Refugee Health at the Perth Children’s Hospital in Western Australia. Raewyn is an Indigenous woman of Ngai Tahu, New Zealand. Raewyn has a proven track record of clinical and research work, teaching, advocacy, education and CPD resource development among culturally and linguistically diverse families, neurodevelopment and justice disciplines, researching knowledge attitudes and practices (KAP), closing identified gaps in care, translating new knowledge and building capacities to improve social and emotional wellbeing for individuals and their communities, for clinical practices and policies, nationally. Raewyn completed the Harvard Certificate in Global Mental Health: Trauma and Recovery (HPRT) Certificate in 2015-2016. Raewyn was invited to join the HPRT Faculty for the 2019-2020 Certificate Course. In November, Raewyn gave the first lecture ever in the 15 year history of the HPRT course on an “Holistic Approach to Traumatized Children and Adolescents”.

Hayley Passmore is a final year PhD Candidate at the Telethon Kids Institute and School of Paediatrics and Child Health, The University of Western Australia. Hayley has qualifications in Criminology and Psychology. She has previous experience working with adult offenders and their families, and with vulnerable children and families across Western Australia.

Dr Thalia Anthony’s expertise is in the areas of criminal law and procedure and Indigenous people and the law, with a particular specialisation in Indigenous women’s and young peoples’ experience of the criminal justice system and Indigenous community justice mechanisms. She has developed new approaches to researching and understanding the role of criminalisation in governing Indigenous communities and how the state regulates Indigenous-based justice strategies. Her research is informed by fieldwork in Indigenous communities and partnerships with Indigenous legal organisations in Australia and overseas.

Thalia currently is working on ARC projects addressing: the sentencing of Aboriginal women; the criminalisation of homeless people and the role of Night Patrols in Aboriginal safety and wellbeing. She recently received ARC funding to develop a trial of Aboriginal Justice Reports for sentencing in Koori Courts, with a focus on preparing the reports for Aboriginal women. Thalia’s major books include Indigenous People, Crime and Punishment (2013) and, with Professor Harry Blagg, Decolonizing Criminology (2019).

Harry Blagg is Professor of Criminology and Director of the Centre for Indigenous Peoples and Community Justice in the Law School University of Western Australia. He has researched and developed theory and policy on Indigenous justice issues for several decades. His new book, co-authored with Thalia Anthony, called Decolonising Criminology is to be published in 2019 by Palgrave.

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