Five separate facilities focusing on prevention rather than punishment will replace Tasmania’s infamous Ashley Youth Detention Centre, part of a government ‘plan’ to reform the state’s youth justice system.
- Tasmania’s Child Sexual Abuse Inquiry Committee heard evidence that Ashley inmates were physically and sexually abused
- Calls have been made for the immediate closure of the center
- The government has presented plans for five separate facilities to replace Ashley
In 2021, then Prime Minister Peter Gutwein announced that the detention centre, near Deloraine in northern Tasmania, would be closed within three years.
But after Tasmania’s Sexual Abuse Inquiry Commission heard heartbreaking evidence of children and young people being sexually and physically abused at Ashley, there was pressure for it to be closed immediately.
The government’s proposed model of juvenile justice facilities would replace Ashley with five purpose-built facilities, including a detention center in southern Tasmania, two assisted bail facilities in the north and south and two residential facilities supported charge at each end of the state.
Children and Youth Minister Roger Jaensch said the facilities would help keep young offenders engaged in education and employment and provide them with supported accommodation and health services.
“Our government is committed to implementing a cutting-edge approach that engages at-risk youth early, diverts them from the youth justice system, and helps young people who come into conflict with the law become valued and productive members of our community. community,” Mr. Jaensch said.
According to the model, the single statewide youth detention center in southern Tasmania would only house young people between the ages of 14 and 17 in custody or on remand for serious violent crimes, and only younger children in exceptional circumstances.
The Tasmanian government has already pledged to raise the minimum age of detention from 10 to 14, although it has resisted calls to raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility by 10 years.
The detention center would provide therapeutic care to address the underlying needs that influenced the youth’s offending, with on-site health, mental health, drug and alcohol abuse, education and training services.
The two assisted bail centers would aim to reduce the number of youth remanded in custody by providing stable housing, assistance in managing bail conditions and support services to reduce recidivism.
Youth on bail could live on site in individual self-contained units if they had no other suitable accommodation or needed help with mental health or addiction issues.
Support centers in the north and south would look after young people coming out of detention, or who had been ordered by a court to attend, to help them reintegrate into the community.
The centers would have self-contained individual units and staff, and young people would be supported to participate in education, training and employment and to access services in the community.
The model does not include information on where the facilities would be located, or when they would be built and start operating.
Children’s commissioner wants more details
Tasmania’s Commissioner for Children and Young People, Leanne McLean, said she wanted to see more details of the proposed facilities, but overall the proposal was positive.
“The general strategic direction of going with a wider range of government-funded establishments to support children in the community is a good step in the right direction,” she said.
“It is unfortunate that this is not accompanied by an increase in the minimum age of criminal responsibility.”
Ms McLean said supported accommodation for children who come into contact with the justice system was desperately needed.
“Many children and young people are in detention because they are homeless, and the crime they have committed is the result of being homeless, not having someone to care for them and not having the material bases they need to survive.”
Ms McLean said Mr Jaensch assured her that the new detention center would not be part of the existing Risdon prison complex (for adults).
Greens leader Cassy O’Connor welcomed the announcement of the new facilities.
“Having said that, Minister Jaensch was unclear about what will happen for the next two years until AYDC closes,” Ms O’Connor said.
“While the minister’s plan for therapeutic equipment looks good, to our knowledge, no site has yet been identified and the work still seems a long way off.”
Ms O’Connor said Ashley should be shut down immediately, describing it as a ‘hellhole’ and ‘no place for children and young people’.
“Minister Jaensch should find solutions and alternatives now.”
Other detailed juvenile justice reforms
The government has also published a plan to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people who are currently at Ashley and who will remain there until it closes.
The plan includes increasing the safety and security of inmates, maintaining appropriate staff, improving practices at the center and providing a therapeutic service model.
A 2022-32 10-Year-Old Youth Justice Master Plan has also been released for public comment.
The plan proposed to reform Tasmania’s youth justice system to focus on a therapeutic approach aimed at reducing offending, reducing the over-representation of Indigenous children and helping children reintegrate into the community.
Youth justice plans will be finalized next year.