Legislative Council: Tuesday, June 13, 2023


Juvenile Incarceration Rates

In reply to the Hon. C. BONAROS ().2 May 2023).

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector): The Minister for Human Services has advised:

1. In 2021-22 there was an increase of nine children aged 11 to 13 years admitted to custody at Kurlana Tapa Youth Justice Centre, which was a 20.9 per cent increase from 2020-21. There were no children aged 10 years admitted in 2020-21 or 2021-22.

This single year increase should be considered in context.

In 2020-21, South Australia (SA) admitted the lowest number on record of children aged 10-13 years to custody. This was likely due to community-wide COVID-19 response measures.

As outlined in table 1 below, the increase of nine children to a total 52 children admitted in 2021-22 is a return to normal trends and on par with the number admitted in 2019-20 (52); 2018-19 (51) and 2017-18 (53).

Table 1: Number of children aged 10 to 13 years admitted to Kurlana Tapa by financial year in SA

Financial Year Number of children aged 10-13 years admitted to custody
2015-16 84
2016-17 68
2017-18 53
2018-19 51
2019-20 52
2020-21 43
2021-22 52
2022-23(Year to date to 8 May 2023) 38

It is also important to note:

whilst there are fluctuations from year to year, there has been a long-term trend decline in the number of children aged 10-13 years admitted to custody in SA

the vast majority (87 per cent in 2021-22) of all children and young people under youth justice supervision in SA are supervised in the community, not in custody (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Youth Justice in Australia 2021-22)

the latest published national data on the proportion of children and young people who returned to sentenced supervision within 12 months, shows that SA had the lowest rate of returns nationally compared to all other jurisdictions (41.2 per cent compared to 50.9 per cent nationally) (Productivity Commission Report on Government Services 2023). Whilst there is room for further improvement, this is a positive achievement.

data from the Report on Government Services also shows that SA has the second lowest rate of detention of children and young people in Australia, after Victoria (1.8 per 10,000 young people in SA compared to the national average of 2.8 in 2021-22).

most young people have brief periods of custody in Kurlana Tapa. In 2021-22, the median length of custody for all children and young people in Kurlana Tapa was 3.7 days. The average length of custody was 13.1 days. This applies for all periods of custody which started and ended in 2021-22.

In relation to the supplementary question, the Department of Human Services (DHS) is unable to corroborate the claim that some children aged 11 and 12 years are spending over 130 days on remand at Kurlana Tapa. DHS has reviewed custody data for all children aged 11 and 12 years at the time of first admission since 1 July 2019. It appears only eight children in this cohort have spent a cumulative period in custody over 30 days. The highest cumulative days in custody for a child in this cohort was 82 days.

2. The Attorney-General has responded, 'I think it is of concern to all of us to see children incarcerated.'

3. The data shows a long-term trend decline in the number of children in custody in SA. DHS is committed to working with partner agencies to further reduce admissions to custodial youth justice. These efforts cut across multiple portfolios.

DHS is committed to working with young people, their families and communities to reduce offending and contact with the justice system.

In 2021, DHS introduced the Child Diversion Program (CDP) to reduce admissions to custody, repeat offending and to improve outcomes for children. The CDP provides non-custodial, short-term supported accommodation for Aboriginal children aged 10-13 years who are at risk of entering custody due to lack of a suitable bail address. Specialist staff undertake intensive family scoping, support assessment and utilise Aboriginal family-led decision-making to connect the child and their family with appropriate supports.