This weekend November 11 is Prison Sunday, and what better way to acknowledge the day than by focusing on Youth Justice in this Year of Youth.
CatholicCare provides spiritual and pastoral care in two youth justice centres in Victoria – in Parkville and Malmsbury – and the young people in these centres are either on remand while they await their trial, or they have been sentenced for a crime. The young people in these centres can be as young as 10, and up to 21 years of age.
Melanie Edwards is one of our Youth Justice Chaplains who supports the young people at Melbourne’s youth justice centre in Parkville.
‘The young people at Parkville have often come from dysfunctional families. Violence and anger is, sadly, what some of them experience as “ordinary life” and others have come from child protection orders,’ says Melanie.
‘There are also high rates of mental illness, and some have experienced drug and alcohol issues or had intergenerational incarceration in the family. It’s my mission to inspire hope for these young people, and to help them see the bigger picture – that there is more to them than their crime.’
An overview of Youth Justice
This year in particular, there has been a large focus on youth justice and the media have contributed (mostly) negatively to the issue, providing misleading and “fluffed up” information which has made some fear for their safety and led to abuse of minority groups.
Let’s look at some of the facts to see just what’s going on behind the scenes of Youth Justice:
Characteristics of young offenders:
- 70% were victims of abuse, trauma or neglect
- 65% had previously been suspended or expelled from school
- 53% presented with a mental illness
- 41% presented with cognitive difficulties that affect their daily functioning
- 37% have been subject to a child protection order at some point
- 24% spoke English as a second language
(data from Youth Parole Board annual survey in December 2017)
Statistics on young offenders aged 10-17 in 2015:
- 0.6% of Victoria’s youth population were sentenced
- 77% of offenders were male, and 23% were female
- 79% of young people who offended in the past, went on to offend again
- 51% of young people who hadn’t offended in the past, went on to offend again
(data from Sentencing Advisory Council factsheet: “Reoffending by children and young people in Victoria”)
A better solution
These statistics show us that there are areas we can focus on to reduce the number of youth offenders, and they also tell a story on why youth offend. If a young offender has been suspended or expelled from school, has been a victim of abuse and struggles with a form of mental illness, it paints a picture around their support networks, or lack thereof, and what they are going through as repercussions of their experiences.
So what can we do about it?
‘We need more opportunities to help prevent youth from offending, but we also need to provide more opportunities for support post-release,’ says Melanie.
‘Once these young people are released back into the “outside” world, it’s hard for them to break free from their circles of support who are sometimes not that supportive. When they’re surrounded by family or friends who have a negative influence, or who have been incarcerated, they have no were else to look.’
With the young people at Parkville Youth Justice Centre, Melanie spends time with them building connections, offering opportunities to pray, doing activities together and even just being a listening ear. ‘That’s what they need sometimes. They just need someone to listen to what they have to say.’
As for you and me, there is much we can do to help support youth in justice centres.
‘Read about the issues facing youth, become an advocate for them, and pray for them. You can also volunteer or fundraise for our FUSION program, which provides the young people with an opportunity to engage with others and play some fun games and activities together. That’s how I got involved in CatholicCare’s Youth Justice Program.'