Green Left: NSW Labor’s harmful juvenile bail laws

“Punitive approaches simply don’t work,” says Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties.

In March, the Minns government introduced harsh new bail laws. The Bail and Crimes Amendment Bill 2024 makes it more difficult for juveniles, between 14-18 years old, to get bail. But tougher bail laws are a “tried and failed” method of reducing crime.

The NSWCCL accused the Minns government of taking a reactive policy approach once again and ignoring consistent evidence that increasing incarceration of young people has damaging consequences. As Shelly commented, “When children this young are forced through a criminal legal process, their health, well-being and future are put at risk.”

These laws are a “band-aid solution” and do little to protect the community in the long run. Introducing more children to the prison system “increases crime by compounding the trauma vulnerable children have already been through and giving them an apprenticeship in the criminal world that leads to more serious offending later in life,” says Arthur Moses, national patron of the Justice Reform Initiative (JRI), and Karly Warner, CEO of the Aboriginal Legal Service. (ALS)

A letter signed by 60 organisations, including the ALS and Sydney Institute of Criminology, criticising the new laws also stated that “throwing more children in jail will lead to horrific outcomes for communities, families and those children, compounding abuse and trauma.”

The new laws also adversely target vulnerable groups such as First Nations children who are already at greater risk of incarceration. A recent report by the JRI found that 61.5% of young people in custody are First Nations young people and, on any given night in June 2023, 106 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander young people were in detention. Imprisoning more children will do the opposite of Closing The Gap.

Incarceration is also expensive, costing “well beyond $985,500 each person each year,” says Sue Higginson, NSW Greens justice spokesperson.

This investment will be far more productive if diverted into community-based solutions. Organisations that have a successful track record in “breaking the cycle of incarceration,” by engaging at-risk young people through after-school and weekend activities, are limited by a lack of funding. JRI calls on Labor to dedicate a $300 million fund to support these community-led initiatives.

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