Iso Community Check in: what kind of criminal justice system do we want for the future?

y tube diDuring this period of self-isolation it is more important than ever before that we proactively seek safe spaces to connect with one another. This is why our friends at #WorthASecondChance are running their Live Community Check In series.

You can be part of it every Tuesday at 5pm AEST time at  #WorthASecondChance Instagram to check in with a range of people who are working hard to creatively adapt the way they support young people.

Jess Sanders, Campaign Manager says the check ins are a way for us to reflect on the impact the coronavirus is having on those working in the sector, young people and the wider community.

This week, our JYP network co-convenor Diana Johns joined the live chat from her home. Have a listen to the video and come away feeling inspired by the vision she has for an ideal justice system.

What we need to do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our criminal justice systems? Information, independent monitoring and release

On 7 April 2020, over 350 criminal justice experts in Australia endorsed an important second open letter to all Australian Attorneys-General and Corrections Ministers. It urges their immediate action to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 in Australian prisons and criminal justice systems, noting that this requires information, independent monitoring and release from prision and youth detention centres.

Given the particular vulnerability of children and young people in Australian youth detention centres, the letter calls for their immediate release wherever possible.

Our network also endorses the letter.


What we need to do right now to stop the spread of COVID-19 in our criminal justice systems? Information, independent monitoring and release

The letter in part states:

The cohort of young people in detention who are more likely to have mental illness, cognitive impairment, FASD and other behavioural difficulties are likely to find
it harder than most to comply with [social distancing and handwashing] directives. This, combined with enclosed, inadequately sanitised, and overcrowded conditions make many YDC high risk environments for the transmission of COVID-19 amongst detainees and staff, and therefore the broader community.

Global uncertainty and anxiety about COVID-19 affects all members of our community, but children in detention separated from their families and support networks are at particular risk of mental harm.

Children and young people in detention already experience extremely high rates of co-morbid health problems and mental disorders and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people are at even higher risk of self-injury and suicide.

Similarly, we expect extremely negative impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of the families of these young people if they are unable to reunited during these difficult times.

Immediate efforts should be made to release these children and young people wherever possible. If these children and young people are not released, there is a very real risk that they will be subjected to conditions of separation, isolation and restriction within YDC if COVID-19 enters the youth detention system, in a belated bid to contain the virus.

This poses extreme risk to the mental health and wellbeing of these children.

The above signatories are concerned that efforts to control COVID19 including separating detainees, putting detainees in isolation and limiting social interaction and visits will have potentially long- lasting negative impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of these young people.

Emergency measures specific to children include:
• Granting temporary leave to young people who have suitable family or alternative accommodation.
• Prioritising bail for children and young people who are on remand.
• Expediting youth parole board hearings to release children and young people to suitable family or alternative accommodation.
• Enacting legislative changes necessary to release sentenced children and young people early.
• Enacting necessary legislative changes to state and territory bail acts to reduce the number of children on remand due to breaches that do not constitute new offending.
• Making specific provision to move Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children out of Youth Detention Centres and on country.

You can read the second open letter here.

The link to the first open letter is here.

The future of Youth Justice: Collaborating for change with lessons from the Netherlands

This week we co-hosted a Youth Justice research workshop with the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne. It was part of the series of events for 2020 and follows on from our launch of the Local Time Design Guide.: a new model for youth justice facilities that are ‘small-scale, integrated in the local community, therapeutic and capable of differentiated security’.

The workshop took the form of a small roundtable symposium involving Government and practitioner partners across the justice and legal sector, who provided important input and gauged appetite for – and canvassed potential barriers to – implementation of small-scale, community-based, therapeutic youth justice facilities in Victoria.

workshop photo
Workshop facilitators Diana Johns and Fleur Sourverein with Sanne Oostermeijer.

Our workshop presenter was University of Melbourne visiting scholar, Fleur Souverein. Fleur’s work has involved evaluating small-scale, community-based youth custodial pilot facilities in the Netherlands. You can read more about this here.

Invited workshop participants provided general feedback through informal discussion which was recorded in a visual format by our graphic recorder Debbie Wood.

The workshop provided an opportunity to gather ‘on-the-ground’ views and perspectives of key decision-makers, stakeholders and practitioners in Victoria about the Dutch model.

It was also an important first step for our network in leading the on-going conversation and action plan for introducing these kinds of youth justice facilities to Victoria.

JYP_Network_Live sketch
Our visual record of our workshop by Debbie Wood

The future of youth justice: lessons from the Netherlands

This is a guest blog by Fleur Souverein. Fleur is in Melbourne as a visiting scholar of the School of Social and Political Sciences at the University of Melbourne until the end of March 2020.  

Together with our co-convenors Diana Johns, Stuart Ross and Sanne Oostermeijer, Local Time Designer, she is conducting a comparative analysis of youth justice and its social-cultural, political and systemic context in the Netherlands and Victoria; to explore how key elements of the Dutch model may be transferred to and implemented in Victoria to alleviate some of the current challenges.

orange leaf on chainlink fence
Photo by Brett Sayles on

Thank you to the JYP network for inviting me to write a guest blog about my research work.  Please feel free to email me  if you would like to discuss any aspect of my research.

The focus of my project lies on the feasibility and efficacy of small scale community based juvenile justice facilities and the conceptualization of relational security  in a juvenile justice setting. Aligned with my PhD, I’m leading an intensive three year evaluation project of a community based juvenile justice facility in Amsterdam. Each aspect of this facility is carefully monitored: implementation, criteria for placement and assessment process, the trajectories during and after placement, the work processes, effective components and challenges; involving quantitative research methods (case file analysis, questionnaires) as well as qualitative research method (weekly observations at the facility, observations during the monthly pilot’s advisory boards meetings and semi- structured interviews with juveniles, parents, staff and stakeholders). This project is subsidized by the Ministry of Justice and Security, supervised by Prof.  A. Popma, Dr. E. Mulder and Mr. Dr. L van Domburgh.

The semi-open small scale community based facility in Amsterdam provides security and structure for justice involved young people (boys on remand) who do not necessarily need high security measures, in close proximity to their social environment and support.

A young person says: ‘The facility resembles a normal life, as it is supposed to’.

During incarceration, under continuous supervision, protective factors (like school, work, social support structures, mental health care) are continued or initiated within the community.

In nearly all trajectories (98%) pre-existing structural daytime activities (like school or work) were continued or initiated within the community. The same accounts for external support structures. For example, if a young person was seeing a psychologist or social worker at the time of his arrest, the facility allows this treatment to continue while the young person is at the facility.

A young person says: ‘It is very good that I can work here, it allows me to really work on myself. I have an exciting job. It stimulates my personal development’.

A follow-up review showed that an average of ten months after release the majority of the young people (78%) were still engaged in a structured daytime activity (like school or work).

The facility operates on a small scale with a maximum of eight young people with an individualized approach through differentiated arrangements in security and care.

A young person says: They [staff] are focused on you individually, your development. This is different inside [to a high security juvenile justice institution]. There they have more standard sanctions, this or that. It is more them vs us.

Within a therapeutic institutional environment, security is mainly established through relational security, supported by a few physical and procedural security measures. Within context of this facility, relational security is conceptualized by the following three distinct but interrelated facets:

A constructive working alliance between the young people and the staff where all young person’s autonomy and responsibility are explicitly promoted by the staff. The young person and their parent/caregiver sit in on every meeting where stakeholders meet to discuss the young person’s own treatment plan.

The facility creates a space where young people can learn by trial and error. Within this alliance, staff take on a coaching role and communicate in a non-authoritative way. No standard sanctions apply; after every rule violations a staff member sits with the young person and their case manager to discuss the appropriate sanction. The focus lies on the underlying factors that led to the inappropriate behavior and what young person needs to do to prevent this behavior in the future.

A young person says: ‘You can see that they truly give you a chance; you can only mess it up yourself, no one else can. They give you space to show that you are willing to do well. But they also give you the space to fuck it up. You can easily walk out of the door; it is your decision if you go or not.’

Staff-young person interaction is characterized by six elements: love and attention, connection, sincerity, empowerment, with staff as a role model, and respect for mutual boundaries.

A young person says: Ok so, look at it this way. You are sick and I want you to get better. Then I throw you into a room full of sick people. Do you think you will get better? Hell no! That is why I believe this works.

Why? Here I am surrounded with positive people, healthy people. I take something positive with me when I leave; the staff inspire me’

Security staff are present to observe, signal, prevent and, if needed, de-escalate incidents that might arise.

A young person says: ‘Small incidents never really escalated because there is always someone there’.

Further by being present, staff are available if a young person needs (emotional) support; also staff presence allows for a lot of (informal) contact with the young people so staff members get to know everyone individually and know how to intervene in a de-escalating manner.

In the interviews, both staff as well as young people and their parents/caregivers report high measures of experienced safety; an analysis of the daily staff reports show a very low incidence of severe aggression incidents. The young people and their caregivers state positive relationships with staff and feel supported. Staff report that they have job satisfaction and the staff turnover rate is low.

These preliminary results show that relational security can provide a framework to establish both a supervised and structured as well as therapeutic and safe environment in juvenile justice settings.

In the coming year, our research team at the Academic Collaborative center for (at-risk) justice involved youth (AWRJ) will further develop this concept of relational security and its operationalization and outcomes in various juvenile justice settings.


Profielfoto Fleur


Event program for our co-hosted launch of the Local Time Design Guide tonight


Victorian Design Challenge Award winning Local Time designers Dr Sanne Oostermeijer and Matthew Dwyer have developed a design guide outlining a new architectural model for youth justice facilities that are ‘small-scale, integrated in the local community, therapeutic and capable of differentiated security’.

The Victorian Design Challenge Jury concluded that ‘Dwyer and Oostermeijer demonstrated a sophisticated understanding of how design can contribute to the resilience of Victoria’s youth community by maintaining connections with family, education, health services and place. Keeping these vulnerable young people in appropriate facilities within their local communities provides a much better chance for their futures.’

The Local Time Design Guide will be launched at an event at the University of Melbourne tonight.

Media enquiries: Michelle McDonnell, JYP network’s Directory of Advocacy on 0451 538 224.

Launch Program Thurs 6 February 2020

The Justice-involved Young People network at the University of Melbourne and RMIT Architecture present:

Launch of Local Time Design Guide: a new architectural model for youth justice facilities in Victoria

5.30pm: Networking opportunity
6.00pm: Welcome to Country by Aunty Di Kerr OAM
6.15pm: Introduction to Local Time
6.25pm: Panel discussion with Charby Ibrahim, Fleur Souverein & Andrew Martel
7.00pm: Audience questions
7.15pm: Launch of Design Guide
7.30pm: Drinks and nibbles in foyer to 8.15pm

Registration details here