Legislative Council: Wednesday, August 30, 2023


Youth Treatment Orders

The Hon. C. BONAROS (15:28): As some members of this place will recall, potentially life-saving laws that gave the Youth Court the power to detain drug-dependent or addicted children for treatment were passed by the previous parliament in 2019. They are laws that I was exceptionally proud of. The legislation gave the Youth Court the power to request that children detained in Adelaide's youth justice centre be assessed to determine whether they have drug dependency issues, are unlikely to seek voluntary assistance and pose a danger to themselves or others.

Due to some inexplicable reason and inexcusable delays in enacting that legislation, the Youth Court has only had the power to order those who are found to be drug dependent to undergo mandatory drug rehabilitation since December 2021. That two-year delay was completely unacceptable. The previous government should take responsibility for the fact of their failure to deliver that program in a more timely manner, especially given it was one of their key election issues off the back of a policy that we, SA-Best, held at the time.

For the record, we are still fiddling with the regulations around mandatory youth treatment orders to this very day. Another two years on from 2021, we still have no information on how many orders have been made by the Youth Court, what assistance has been provided to the young people placed under orders or how effective those orders have been in addressing substance abuse issues identified.

Have any orders been made and what has been their impact, if any, on recidivism? We are told that treatment orders would be delivered by a private drug rehabilitation provider and only to children convicted of criminal offences detained at youth justice centres. How many young people have actually received rehabilitative support under these orders? Youth on remand, no matter how much we want to sugar-coat it, could have access to a whole range of much better services if there was a genuine will to fund them and resource them appropriately.

Last week I had the good fortune of visiting the Youth Court and hearing the Attorney make an announcement on what is being done around the establishment of a Nunga Court and programs there aimed at diverting kids away from the Youth Court, away from drugs, away from crime, and that is a wonderful development in what we have done. It is also potentially a one-way ticket away from Yatala and the adult criminal justice system. The reality is we have not done enough and we continue to fail in this area.

The other reality is that we have not done enough across the board when it comes to rehabilitation programs. A great example of this is the fact that a person on remand in the adult setting cannot qualify for rehabilitation or counselling programs until sentencing, and we all know—and this was debated in this place yesterday—that waiting for sentencing can take six, 12, 18 to 24 months, maybe longer, depending on why you are there.

The likelihood is that you will be released for time served before you are actually sentenced in some instances, and all the while you have been sitting in a cell in a jail without access to any services because you do not qualify because you have not been sentenced yet. You are effectively in some instances sent out of prison worse than what you were before you came in to prison because you have had access to zero to help you rehabilitate yourself while you spend that time in custody. We send people out having done nothing to help them overcome the issues that saw them get into prison in the first place.

That old motto of 'rack 'em, pack 'em and stack 'em' clearly has been an abysmal failure. We can keep doing things exactly the same and expect the exact same results that we have had here for a very, very long time or we could once and for all try to do things differently and hope that the results are actually better. It is for that reason that I am calling on our minister to tell us what it is that South Australia is doing about the drug crisis overall, but especially in our criminal justice system, to address us in terms of the effectiveness or otherwise of youth treatment orders legislation and the need for those sorts of programs across the board and to address us in terms of what supports and services are actually being provided to youth and adults in the criminal justice system.