[ACNS] Bishop Philip Huggins, the Vicar-General of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne, has called for a fresh approach to the growing problem of youth crime in the state of Victoria. His comments come after a spate of riots and violent crimes by young offenders over many months and a mass breakout from a youth justice centre earlier this week. The authorities have announced plans for a new high security juvenile prison that will be built for the state’s worst youth criminals.
But Bishop Huggins has now called for a more strategic approach to replace what he called the current fragmented system: “Problems evident in Victoria’s youth justice system will not be solved simply with new prisons and tougher sentences, and certainly not by just blaming politicians or police”, he said. “There is a growing cohort of young people who are dysfunctional at many levels, whose backgrounds may involve domestic and family violence, unstable housing, problems of addiction, and perhaps an inability to find positive social identity through education and durable employment.”
In November rioting by teens at a youth justice centre prompted the authorities to transfer some inmates to a maximum security prison – a development that prompted the Anglican and Catholic Archbishops of Melbourne to write a joint letter to the state government, expressing concern and warning that teen-offenders’ welfare and chances of rehabilitation were at risk.
Bishop Huggins is now calling for a long-term, bipartisan approach “based on a 20-year time-line so policies and programs can assist young people, their families and communities find healthier lives.”
He said that Anglican social care agencies could contribute to finding a solution – and described a youth summit last year organised by the chief commissioner of Police as a very fruitful conversation: “We must build on this, particularly to examine how society can better link the preventative and responsive work of the health, education, community services, mental health, housing, police and youth justice services with the work of such non-government agencies as Anglicare and Brotherhood of St Laurence.”