In an effort to break the drug and alcohol cycle of teenagers entering the criminal justice system, Australia’s Opposition Coalition is proposing a new “tough but compassionate” mandatory drug and alcohol treatment for offending teens. Opposition Leader Matthew Guy is hoping the plan will improve community safety as well as provide an alternative to jail time for some convicted youth.
Under the plan, the Children’s Court will be empowered to issue Youth Therapeutic Orders to young people in the justice or child protection system. The drug and alcohol treatment will take place in a residential centre and is expected to last four to six months for each participant as well as provide post-release care. Education offered through Parkville College will also be a part of the program.
“We don’t want them cycling through the Youth Justice system and adult prisons, this is about breaking that cycle and intervening early … When it comes to dealing with the ice crisis we need to be smarter, tougher and, when needed, compassionate.”
-Shadow Health Minister Mary Wooldridge
The policy, based on the work of Children’s Court magistrate Jennifer Bowles, is just another part of the Opposition’s new law and order policy that has been focusing on tougher sentencing and bail reform, and reflects the statistic from the Youth Parole Board that most young offenders in Victoria’s criminal justice system have histories of alcohol and drug abuse and were under the influence of substances when their crimes were committed.
It is also possible that parents seeking intervention against violent children will be able to obtain an order from the court.
This is not the first time Australia’s government has addressed the issue of teen crime and drug and alcohol abuse. Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the Government had already invested in a rehabilitation program and a plan to implement mandatory treatment for young offenders.
“By building the facilities we need and providing an environment where you can actually get the care and the treatment as part of your custodial sentence — that’s very important,” he told reporters on Monday morning.
Victorian Minister for Mental Health Martin Foley said the Government was already doubling its investment in residential rehabilitation beds.
“We will continue on that path to make sure that the services that Victorians need — young or old — are available when and where they need them,” he said.
It is predicted that 60 young people per year will be ordered to participate in the program after convictions of offending behaviour or risk of harm to themselves or others resulting from substance abuse. Each youth will be clinically assessed before enrolment in the program, including his or her history of voluntary treatment participation, as well as for suitability, including if other voluntary treatment options had been unsuccessful. It is expected that running the facility will cost $20 million annually.
While treatment takes place, the court will be updated regularly on each youth’s progress and will assess the continuation of the program for each participant after three months. Additionally, the Commission for Children and Young people will be in a position to independently oversee the facility while treatment programs are run.