Church seeks juvenile justice reform

Church seeks juvenile justice reform

The Uniting Church’s Synod of New South Wales and the ACT has called on the New South Wales Government to make changes to the Bail Act to divert children and young people away from detention centres as a first step in reform of juvenile justice.

It also called on the Government to implement “Justice Reinvestment”, as outlined in the Noetic Report — the a strategic review of Juvenile Justice policy and practice completed in January 2010.

Meeting at the University of Newcastle on September 27, the Synod noted that New South Wales has the highest rate of children and young people held in custody in Australia.

The average daily population of New South Wales juvenile justice centres in 2009-10 was 434, which includes 208 remanded in custody.

This means they are held in detention while waiting to appear in court. Once they have appeared in court, only one-in-five will receive a custodial sentence.

Synod registered its concern that contact with a Juvenile Justice centre is a leading factor in future offending.

It also noted that the incarceration rate for Aboriginal young people is 28 times all young people. Aboriginal young people make up 59% of the juvenile justice detention population.

In the proposal brought for UnitingCare Burnside by the Rev. Harry Herbert and the Rev. Garry Derkenne, Synod heard that in the five years to 2008-09, the average daily population in juvenile detention centres in New South Wales increased by 73%.

Changes made to the NSW Bail Act in 2007, such as the introduction of Section 22a, has made getting bail harder for children and young people and led to in an increase in numbers in detention.

Vulnerable children and young people, for instance, those who have been in the out-of-home care system or who have cognitive and mental health impairments, are over represented in juvenile justice detention.

Synod felt it was essential that the review of the NSW Bail Act results in changes that will reduce the number of children and young people in detention.

That would see better outcomes for children and young people and would be a good first step, to be followed by more comprehensive reform of the juvenile justice system.

Synod encouraged congregation members to contact their local State MP, the Attorney General and the Premier to seek their support for changes to the Bail Act.

It also encouraged Synod members to become supporters of Burnside’s Because Children Matter campaign.

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