A shake-up of the court diversion program could ensure more Indigenous children and other young people stay out of the youth justice system, a Victorian report has found.
Diversion focuses on rehabilitation rather than incarceration and allows children who have offended to avoid a criminal record.
There were 4187 Victorian children referred to diversion between 2017 and 2020, the Youth Justice Reform Act Review found, with Aboriginal children accounting for 12.2 per cent of that figure.
Access to the youth diversion program should be "as broad as possible", especially for those over-represented in the youth justice system, the report tabled in state parliament on Thursday said.
Police prosecutors should no longer hold the power to refer a child to the diversion program, with that job instead falling to a magistrate or a judge, the report recommended.
The government should also establish designated Aboriginal and culturally-diverse diversion coordinator positions, and prioritise investment in Aboriginal-led programs, the report said.
Communication was also key, with the report recommending court orders be explained in culturally sensitive ways to ensure young people and their families better understand the legal process.
The review made 20 recommendations in total, also calling for more support for victims of crime and a tailored model focusing on early intervention for offenders aged 10 to 13.
The Victorian government responded to the review, saying it would carefully consider the findings and undertake further work before adopting a final position to each recommendation.
The government maintained it was committed to delivering a youth justice system that reduced reoffending, improved community safety, and provided genuine opportunities for young people to turn their lives around.
But the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service said systemic reform was still needed to ensure no child was ever put in prison.
"The evidence is overwhelming that diversion has better outcomes for the child and community than a prison sentence does," a VALS spokesperson told AAP.
"We also want work done to improve parole, including fairer hearings that include the right to legal representation.
"The justice system is a perpetrator of harm to our people and has been for generations. We want to see the expansion of Koori Courts and culturally appropriate practices and training.
"But the government also needs to invest more money to ensure Aboriginal children don't end up in the justice system to begin with."
Australian Associated Press
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