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Children and Young People Report
File picture: The West Australian

Tackling the causes of youth crime in WA will need more programs targeting mental health, employment, drugs, alcohol and education, the State’s commissioner for children and young people says.

Commissioner Michelle Scott says the number of young people in detention in WA has risen in recent years but fell significantly in NSW and Victoria.

“We are heading in the wrong direction because we have not made sufficient investment in the programs that are successful in keeping young people out of detention and protecting the community,” Ms Scott said in a paper released today.

“Justice issues are inextricably linked to social disadvantage and mental illness, and are influenced by factors including dysfunction at home, alcohol and drugs, violence, poverty and disengagement from the school system and community.”

The commissioner said she was optimistic the debate about youth justice following the Banksia Hill riot in January would bring improvements in WA.

Banksia Hill, the state’s only juvenile detention facility, was trashed in a rampage by inmates, leading authorities to move dozens of youths to the adult prison at Hakea.

Ms Scott said the significant shortage of staff and programs available to young people in WA had become clear during the youth detention debate.

Former Corrective Services Commissioner Ian Johnson told a Supreme Court - days before he was seemingly forced to retire from the position - that Ms Scott had been consulted about the Hakea move around the time it was made.

Ms Scott later said detaining young offenders, some of whom had not yet been sentenced, in an overstretched adult facility was inappropriate.

Recommendations from the WA Commissioner for Children and Young People Report

• A network of community safe houses where at risk children can seek refuge

• Funding for culturally appropriate programs to address the large number of Aboriginal children in the justice system

• A state-wide 24-hour bail service for young people

• Rapid expansion of the forensic mental health service currently being trialled at the Children’s Court

• Investment in education, training, mental health, and drug and alcohol programs for young people in detention to reduce recidivism.

The West Australian

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