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Funding for youth diversion programs a good step

The State Government has made the welcome announcement that it will direct more than $7 million towards youth diversion programs if re-elected in November.

The two year pilot announced on Sunday will be followed by a state-wide pre-plea, legislated system, giving young people the same opportunity for diversion available to adults. This is a significant step that has long been called for by VCOSS members.

Effective diversionary programs help young people address the underlying causes of their offending by tackling issues such as substance use, housing, mental health issues, education and training needs. They aim to help reduce reoffending rates, improve community safety and save money on police, courts, prisons and legal services.

The two year pilot and subsequent state-wide, legislated system will be a useful contribution to creating a justice system that is smart on crime and should receive bipartisan support.

However this announcement comes too late for successful youth diversion programs like Right Step which have already had to close their doors.

To support the legislated right to diversion, programs must be made available state-wide. At the moment it is often rural and regional areas that are missing out, with programs like the Youth Support Service and ROPES only available to some young people.

As the below map shows, there is a distinct paucity of available diversion programs for Victoria’s young people who get caught up in the criminal justice system, particularly in regional areas.

Youth Diversion in Victoria

Access to diversionary programs: Young people residing in regional and rural areas are less likely to have access to diversionary programs. The blue locations are Magistrates/Children’s Courts where diversionary programs are offered.

As well as prioritising diversion from the justice system, a smart justice system reduces the number of people reoffending and returning to prison.

Appropriate transitional support is important in reducing the likelihood of reoffending as well as reducing the risk of homelessness, suicide and drug overdose. Currently, 43 per cent of prisoners leave prison into homelessness[1] and experts estimate about one person per month dies from drug overdose soon after leaving prison.

The other welcome announcement by the State Government of $26 million for pre and post release programs  to reduce offending, address addictions, and provide support and treatment on release will go some way towards addressing the disadvantage experienced by offenders and people leaving prison and targeting the causes of reoffending.