Youth justice system review finds need for welfare services

By Naomi Neilson|23 January 2020

Young people detained in the criminal justice system are experiencing poor health and a range of complex physical and mental health disorders, according to law research.

In a global review into the youth criminal system, the University of Melbourne, with the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute (MRCI) and the University of Sheffield from the UK, examined the children and adolescents within the system.

Research discovered adolescents have a higher prevalence of mental health disorder and suicidal behaviours than their peers in the community, along with substance abuse disorders, neurodevelopment disabilities and sexually transmitted diseases.

Professor Stuart Kinner, head of the Justice Health Unit at the University of Melbourne, said that to reduce the rates of reoffending and to improve health outcomes for anyone affected, appropriate evidence-based treatment must be provided.

“Investment in coordinated health, education, family and welfare services for our most disadvantaged young people must be a priority, both to keep them out of youth justice systems and to ensure that their health and social needs are met,” he said.

“We need to recognise that these vulnerable young people typically spend only a short time in detention, before returning to disadvantaged communities.”

Researchers at the universities examined the ways poor health and poverty drove the affected children and adolescents into the youth justice systems.


It found learning disabilities, poor mental health and experiences of trauma from their childhood can increase the risk that a young person will be exposed. This risk is then further amplified by societal factors, including inequality and disadvantage.

The University of Sheffield Professor of Adolescent Health and Justice Nathan Hughes said research highlights the need for a whole-of-system approach.

“Research shows that it is our most disadvantaged and unwell young people who end up in the youth justice system,” said Professor Hughes.

“Their health and welfare are complex, and many detained adolescents have multiple, co-occurring health issues that are compounded by communication difficulties, risky substance abuse and trauma.”

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Youth justice system review finds need for welfare services
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