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Review Begins To Make Youth Justice 'Child-Friendly'

The Children's Commissioner has announced a review to make Jersey's youth justice system 'child-friendly' amid concerns about a lack of progress on past calls for improvements.

Deborah McMillan has recently hosted talks with agencies including Probation, Children's Services and Greenfields in response to the government's Youth Justice Review which was published last May.

During the meeting, Jersey was called 'not child-friendly', and concerns were raised that youngsters are often treated as mini-adults.

There was a consensus that the age of criminal responsibility should be raised from 10 to 14. The Commissioner says this should be considered as a priority, alongside creating a welfare-based system of youth justice.

"If you raise the minimum age of criminal responsibility, you have to have in place good quality diversion and prevention. The two things go hand in hand in terms of their development."

She thinks more needs to be done to make sure children are only detained as a last resort, and for as little time as possible.  She says cases have been brought to her attention that demonstrate the existing guidance is not fit for purpose.

Whilst welcoming the decline in custodial sentencing since 2010, the Commissioner says this has led to a risk of social isolation for some children in Greenfields.

"If we've got really good quality prevention and diversion on the island, then we're going to need less to detain children.

"One of the problems that we have is because there's very few children and young people who need to be detained, quite often they are placed in Greenfields on their own. It's not good enough."

Ms. McMillan says the views of young people haven't been heard enough on these issues.

"What is it like when you go to the police station and you make a complaint that you've been a victim of crime? Are you treated with dignity, is your voice heard, are you taken seriously?

"Equally I want to hear from young people who have been or are locked up in a unit such as Greenfields. What's it like to be there on your own? Are you accessing your rights with education and leisure facilities?

Children's Commissioner Deborah McMillan.

The Jersey Care Inquiry recommended that Greenfields be demolished, calling it 'entirely unsuitable for distressed young people'.

However, the Children's Minister Senator Sam Mezec says the Council of Ministers supports the secure unit being redesigned and redeveloped instead, which will include a 'significant decrease in the number of secure care places available'.

Ms. McMillan is calling for a multi-agency Youth Justice strategy, an investigation into whether the Parish Hall Enquiry system is fair and consistent and gives children a voice, and measures to make Youth Court and Royal Court processes more 'child-friendly' for both victims and alleged offenders.

Recommendations from the review will be made to the government this autumn.

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