Responding to Don Dale: Coming to terms with our irresponsibility as legal practitioners for young people’s experience in detention centres

Mary Spiers Williams1

1ANU College of Law

Legal practitioners have known for some time what young people experience in detention centres. The screening nationally of images of those places and the acts that have taken place was not a revelation to us. But it reverberated in the youth justice arena, shocked us even in our fatalism and again we were confronted by a sense of futility that arises from a belief that we have no power to affect the conditions of custody or prevent children from being detained there. Despite our awareness of the dysfunction of the penal detention centre (from the considerable body of social science research, the evidence of our own perceptions of these places and the instructions of our clients), this information appears to play little part in the formal determination of youth sentencing. The reasons for this are often attributed to the limited power of the judicial arm of government relative to that of ‘Parliamentary sovereignty’.

In this paper, I interrogate this ‘irresponsibility’ and its paradoxical counterpart, the sense of futility. I then examine the cultural constraints that operate on legal practitioners, and in doing so de-fatalise them. Second, I tackle the remaining barrier to taking ‘responsibility’ as legal practitioners and demonstrate how being  responsible  is possible within the existing limits of the legal framework (including the deferral to Parliamentary sovereignty and a proper application of principles of sentencing law): in jurisdictions that have a penal detention centre like Don Dale, I demonstrate how the conditions of detention should always be taken into account as a matter of law, and argue that a court ought only in the most exceptional cases order detention.

In this presentation, I will discuss the first aspect of the full paper, that is, how legal practitioners persist in a condition of ‘irresponsibility’ regarding their role in the detention of children.


Mary Spiers Williams has diverse experience in the practice and policy of criminal law in NSW and the NT, including being Warlpiri people’s advocate. She continues to work within the legal field as a lecturer at the Australian National University, teaching in core courses of criminal law and evidence law and her  sociolegal courses. She is currently completing doctoral research that explores how the legal field understands that concept of ‘culture’. The thesis is developed using Indigenous and ‘translocal’ methodology and theoretical perspectives, using data derived from field sites in central Australia. The field sites include summary sentencing courts, and as a preliminary step to addressing the larger thesis question, the thesis reexamines sentencing law, identifying some gaps and addresses inconsistencies in sentencing law epistemology.

Illicit drug supply and the construction of the self as an ethical subject

J. Scott

School Of Justice, Queensland University Of Technology 

Contemporary drug policy has been built around stereotypes linking drug markets to addiction, immorality and crime.  While much research has focused on drug users as deviant, less attention has given to drug suppliers.  Anderson (1993, 1998), for example, developed cultural identity theory to examine both personal and social marginalization of drug users, identifying strategies to manage stigma. Moving from stereotypes of the drug dealer, this paper uses this framework and the concept of social supply (drug markets where a supplier, not considered to be a ‘drug dealer proper’, brokers, facilitates or sells drugs, for little or no financial gain to friends and acquaintances) to examine how drug suppliers conceptualise and present the self as a socially integrated and ethical subject. The paper draws on interviews with 200 people who have been engaged in social supply of cannabis in three Australian cities.


John Scott is a Professor in the School of Justice, Queensland University of Technology, Australia.  He has published widely, including Australian government supported research on the ecology of crime (crime in rural contexts), gender and crime( sex industry regulation) and drug use (the supply of cannabis). His most Recenbt co-authored book is Crime and Society (Sage 2015).

Drug policy, rights and ‘new recovery’

N. Thomas

Griffith University, School of Criminology and Criminal Justice,

The ‘New Recovery’ movement is a social movement that aims to advance the rights of people in recovery from problematic drug use. The idea of recovery has also been influential in the policy sphere, as governments in the United Kingdom and the United States have incorporated the concept into drug policy and service design. While the recovery movement has largely focused on rights, citizenship, and empowerment for people in recovery, recovery policy has been considerably more controversial as governments have used it to encourage abstinence-oriented services. During 2012, recovery was the subject of debate in the Australian drug and alcohol field. Drawing on document analysis and interviews with people working in the field, this paper presents an analysis of the reaction to ‘new recovery’ in the Australian context. The paper highlights some of the challenges of defining recovery, the tensions around the role of abstinence versus harm reduction measures in drug services, and broader debates around the rights of people who use drugs.

Roads to recovery: Rebuilding the response to violence against women post Hurricane Katrina

Rachel Loney-Howes

Ph.D. candidate in Crime, Justice and Legal Studies, Department of Social Inquiry, La Trobe University, or

Hurricane Katrina devastated the population of New Orleans in 2005, and the impact this had on women in terms of their heightened exposure to violence and the lack of support services available during the initial recovery period is well documented. It is also acknowledged across a range of support services that whilst this heightened exposure was exceptional, the issues faced by women during the storm were far from exceptional. The storm also exposed the inadequacy of the city’s institutionalised responses to violence against women. An unforseen consequence of this exposure is that it has presented support services with an opportunity to re-group and address issues that pre-dated the storm. Drawing on in-depth semi-structured interviews conducted with service providers including health care and the police, advocacy workers and activists in the city, this paper examines attempts to rebuild and institutionalise adequate responses to violence against women in post-Katrina New Orleans. The paper discusses the work of the Sexual Assault Response Team (SART), made up of police, nurses, social workers and activists in New Orleans, focusing on the importance of networks and alliances when creating a holistic response to sexual violence. One positive unforeseen consequence of hurricane Katrina is that it has created a unique opportunity to rethink institutionalised responses to sexual violence, and violence against women more broadly in New Orleans.


Rachel is a Ph.D. candidate at La Trobe University in Crime, Justice and Legal Studies – part of the Department of Social Inquiry. Her research primarily focuses on the shifting representations of trauma in the context of violence against women, and the impact this has at the level of policy and social change.

Help-seeking during systematic and chronic abuse: Survivor and professional perspectives

M. Salter

Western Sydney University, School of Social Sciences and Psychology,

Systematic and chronic abuse (SCA) refers to experiences of physical and sexual violence that are (a) premeditated, deliberate and involve multiple perpetrators and/or colluding bystanders, and (b) involve frequent and severe incidents of abuse over a prolonged period of time. The background and experience of victims of SCA are diverse but they all experience enmeshment within coercive relations in which physical and sexual abuse, and psychological coercion, are normalised and camouflaged. The psychological impacts of SCA include complex forms of post-traumatic stress disorder and dissociation that are poorly recognised and challenging to treat, and are often seen to undermine their credibility as complainants in the criminal justice system.

This paper reports on a pilot qualitative study with survivors of SCA, and the mental health professionals who treat them, to examine their experiences seeking help from a range of agencies, including police, medical services and child protection agencies. Drawing on a social ecological perspective, the paper argues that the risk of SCA is heightened by ongoing institutional and system failures to recognise SCA, identify victims, provide adequate care or hold perpetrators to account. The experience of research participants suggests that victims of SCA are presenting with some frequency to crisis and mental health services, but their abuse histories and psychosocial needs are frequently misunderstood or overlooked. The paper concludes that SCA is a poor fit within dominant models of ‘domestic violence’ or ‘sexual assault’, and that policy and service frameworks should address more fully the diversity of victimisation experiences.


Dr Michael Salter is a senior lecturer in criminology and member of the Sexualities and Genders Research Group at Western Sydney University. He researches violence against women and children, with a focus on complex forms of victimisation such as organised abuse and technologically-facilitated abuse. His book Crime, Justice and Social Media on online abuse and harassment was published this year by Routledge.

Young people with complex needs in the youth justice system

Eileen Baldry1, Sophie Russell2*

1 Chief Investigator, Comparative Youth Penality Project, University of New South Wales
2 Research Associate, Comparative Youth Penality Project, University of New South Wales

*corresponding author:

Research being conducted in Australian and England and Wales in the United Kingdom as part of the Comparative Youth Penality Project confirms that juvenile justice institutions are filled with some of the most vulnerable young people in our societies. These young people generally have low educational attainment, backgrounds of entrenched disadvantage, housing instability and homelessness, drug and alcohol addiction, mental and cognitive disability, experiences of trauma and abuse, and placements in out-of-home-care. The cumulative impact of these factors in individuals’ lives result in what have been termed complex support needs. This article uses a mixed methodology approach comprising a detailed literature review, secondary analysis of available data, and qualitative analysis of interviews conducted for the Comparative Youth Penality Project to examine, describe and theorise about the presence of young people with complex support needs in youth justice. Using critical disability and critical criminology theoretical orientations, our analyses show striking similarities across Australia, England and Wales in regard to the aetiology of these complex support needs and the attitude towards and management of children and young people with disability.


Sophie Russell (BSLS, MCrim) is the Research Associate on the ARC Comparative Youth Penality Project at the University of New South Wales. Prior to this position, Sophie worked as Research Officer at the Sydney Institute of Criminology at the University of Sydney. Sophie’s research focuses on social justice matters including mental health and cognitive disability and complex support needs in the criminal justice system. Sophie is involved in a voluntary capacity with community sector agencies including as a Director on the Board of Glebe House, a residential therapeutic community.

Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision during 2014–15

J. Sweeney*, A. Schlumpp2

1 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare
2 Australian Institute of Health and Welfare

*Josh Sweeney:

Research shows that children and young people who have been abused or neglected are at greater risk of engaging in criminal activity and entering the youth justice system. A better understanding of the characteristics and pathways of children and young people who are both in the child protection system and under youth justice supervision will assist support staff, case workers and policy makers to achieve optimal outcomes for these children and young people. With the recent introduction of a unit record child protection data collection, it is now possible to link available child protection and youth justice supervision data to explore the relationships between child protection and youth justice supervision.

This presentation will explore findings from a recent Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) report titled Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 2014–15. These findings focus on young people aged 10–17 who were involved in the child protection system and who were subject to a youth justice supervision order in 2014–15. Specifically, it examines the key characteristics of young people involved in different parts of the child protection system and youth justice supervision including: investigated notifications; care and protection orders; out-of-home care; community-based supervision; and detention.

Data for this report were drawn from the AIHW’s Child Protection and Juvenile Justice National Minimum Data Sets and include information from those states and territories with both sets of data available for 2014–15 (Victoria, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory). These data were linked using a multi-step key-based linkage method.

Building relationships with ‘difficult-to-engage’ young people: Changing practice, reducing offending

Dr Marg Liddell1* & Dr Diana Johns2

1 RMIT University, School of Global, Urban & Social Studies
2 University of Melbourne, School of Social & Political Sciences


Young people in frequent conflict with the law are typically construed as ‘difficult’: difficult to engage; difficult to work with; difficult to change. Where young people’s challenging behaviours intersect with and/or manifest broader social problems, such difficulty can be exacerbated by negative, unhelpful or even harmful community and justice system interactions. This paper argues for a relationship-focused, social-ecological approach to understanding young people’s offending. This model provides a long-term strategy that supports young people’s positive identity development in their social context. We draw on two studies ‒ an evaluation of a program supporting young people of African refugee background in inner-west Melbourne, and research on young people involved in ‘prolific’ offending in Wales. Strong parallels exist in 1) the young people’s experience of the justice system, 2) their exclusion from mainstream services and 3) effective practice. Our findings illustrate the importance of taking time, building trust, and a positive strengths-based, relational approach to working with young people in their social and community context. We argue these elements are essential to gain access to, engage with and support individuals and communities to create positive outcomes for vulnerable young people involved the criminal justice system.


Marg Liddell PhD, Senior Lecturer in Justice and Legal Studies discipline at RMIT University, Melbourne. Research interests include: vulnerable populations such as Sudanese and Pacific Islander young people; child abuse and child exploitation issues; youth and female offenders.

Diana Johns, PhD, Lecturer in Criminology at the University of Melbourne,School of Social and Political Sciences. Research interests include: young people in conflict with the law; vulnerable people in the criminal justice system; post-prison reintegration; and youth justice.

An analysis of the association between criminal behaviour and experience of maltreatment as a child

J. Yick

Department of the Attorney General and Justice, Northern Territory,

Aims: This study explores the association between maltreatment as a child in the Northern Territory and criminal offending as juveniles and adults. The results are broken down by Indigenous status and gender, as well as offence types.

Method: The NT conviction records from 1 January 1995 to 31 March 2015 were assessed for individuals maltreated as children and those not known to be maltreated.  The study population included all individuals born in the Northern Territory between 1985 and 2003.  The maltreated group included 1276 individuals who were the recipients of at least one child protection order from NT courts between 1 January 1985 and 31 March 2015.

Results: Consistent with previous research, the maltreated group had a significantly higher (X2, p<.01) juvenile offending rate than those not known to be maltreated. The maltreated group also had a significantly higher (X2, p<.01) re-offending rate. However, maltreated children who reached adulthood without a juvenile conviction showed a significantly lower (X2, p<.01) adult conviction rate than those not known to be maltreated who also lacked juvenile convictions. An interesting finding was that Indigenous males maltreated as children showed a lower, although not statistically significant, overall offending rate than Indigenous males not known to be maltreated.


Joe Yick holds a Mathematical Science degree and a Master of Business Administration.  Joe has held various research and management positions within the Northern Territory Government before joining Department of Justice in 2001 as the Principal Research Officer.  Joe has presented several papers in previous ANZSOC conferences.

Understanding the link between discrimination and juvenile delinquency among Chinese migrant children

Spencer D. Li

University of Macau,

Prior research has identified discrimination as a cause of delinquency among migrant children. Few studies, however, have examined how discrimination is related to delinquency. The current research aims at bringing more understanding to this issue. Based on the general strain theory, this study posits that discrimination gives rise to delinquency because it generates negative emotions and erodes social bonds. The positive relationship between discrimination and delinquency, however, is not unconditional. Despite discrimination, migrant children who receive adequate social support can develop positive mental affects and strong social bonds that protect them from delinquency. To test these hypotheses, this study collected survey data from a probability sample of 1,497 students who attended secondary schools designated for migrant children in one of the largest cities in China. Structural equation modeling analysis was conducted to test the direct and indirect effects of discrimination on delinquency when simultaneously assessing the influences of social support. The results show that perceived discrimination reported by the students was positively related to delinquency through mental health problems and weakened social bonds. The findings also suggest that social support might mitigate the negative impact of discrimination on delinquency by improving mental health and increasing social bonds. Theoretical and policy implications of these findings are discussed.


Prof. Spencer D. Li is Chair of the Department of Sociology at University of Macau. He also serves as President of the Asian Association for Substance Abuse Research. Before joining University of Macau, Prof. Li worked as a statistician at the U.S. Department of Justice. Previously, he held academic positions in criminology and criminal justice at University of Maryland and Florida State University. Dr. Li has served as principal investigator on a number of publicly and privately funded projects related to juvenile delinquency, substance abuse, and corrections. His publications have appeared in several major criminological journals.