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Question: Cost of Youth Imprisonment

6th September 2022

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:18): I seek leave to make a brief explanation before addressing a question without notice to the Attorney-General on the topic of the cost of keeping children in detention.

Leave granted.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS: In the New South Wales budget estimates last month it was revealed that the cost of holding youths in detention has risen to $1,956 per child per day. That is a total of $713,940 per child per year. In South Australia, it has been reported in the media that 43 children aged between 10 and 13 have been incarcerated in 2020-21. My question to the Attorney-General is: how much is it currently costing the South Australian government to hold children under the age of 14 in youth detention?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:19): I thank the honourable member for his question. I have some statistics here, but if there need to be more I can refer that to the minister for youth detention. I am advised, though, that there were some 50 individual children aged 10 to 13 out of a total of 300 individuals for the 2021-22 year in youth detention at various times during that year. That is the total number over the course of the year.

My rough estimate is that there are approximately 30 to 40 total residents on any given day, and approximately, on average, around 15 to 20 per cent are aged between 10 and 13. I am advised that the average cost of housing a youth in detention is about $3,827 a day.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:20): Supplementary: the $3,080 figure that the Attorney-General has referred to, is that per child?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:21): The advice I have is $3,827 per child per day. It is not clear to me, with the information I have, if that is all children or those 10 to 13, but I will find that out as quickly as I can. I won't bring back a reply but will let the honourable member know.

The Hon. R.A. SIMMS (15:21): Further supplementary: does the minister consider that that more than $3,000 per child per day would be better spent on early intervention programs to reduce the harm of sending children to prison?

The Hon. K.J. MAHER (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Attorney-General, Minister for Industrial Relations and Public Sector) (15:21): I agree that we need to do more in early intervention and look at ways to reduce the number of not just children but people who come into contact with the justice system. I haven't got the stat, but it is something like 50 per cent of those between 10 and 13 in our youth detention system are Aboriginal children. That is of great concern when Aboriginal people make up around 2 per cent of the South Australian population.

It is certainly something we are looking at. We have a commitment that later this year we will be starting on a commission into Aboriginal incarceration rates, primarily focused on adult incarceration, but certainly we will have a look at youth detention of Aboriginal children. Anything we can do to stop particularly children having contact with the justice system is a good thing.