Sibella Matthews

Alumni

Problem

Each day, there are approximately 90 girls living in secure juvenile detention facilities across Australia. The majority have experienced abuse, trauma and neglect prior to entering detention, at greater rates than boys in custody. Yet, the small number of girls in detention means that they are too often subjected to inferior standards of care, conditions and programming compared with boys.

While there are calls for reform of the juvenile justice system in Australia, Sibella is deeply concerned that the needs and voices of girls are being marginalized in the national discussion. Several recent reviews have found that Australia’s juvenile detention facilities negatively impact girls’ chances of rehabilitation, are overly oppressive, and breach Australia’s obligations under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. Sibella believes that any reform will only serve to perpetuate the profoundly masculine status quo unless the reforms are designed with girls in mind, and in particular, seek to disrupt the abuse-to-prison pipeline.

Pathway

Sibella believes that girls can only be diverted from detention if state and territory governments invest in high-quality, community-based alternatives that are grounded in research; if Judges, prosecutors and defence attorneys send girls to the alternatives available; and if youth workers and families monitor their treatment. This means system-level reform, which is why Sibella hopes to bring together 24 system actors from across all states and territories in Australia who are best placed to make change as part of the Girls Justice Reform Community.

The Community will meet in person four times a year in rotating locations around the country, where they will hear from international experts, review research into best practices, and share data and lessons from each state and territory. While the Community’s ultimate outcome is for there to be zero girls in detention, the Community will have short-term goals of ensuring state and territory governments apply a gender lens to current juvenile justice operations, including better gender-responsive programming.

Person

Sibella is a systems entrepreneur determined to improve outcomes for children in need of care and protection. Sibella’s strong commitment to children’s rights developed as a result of working for the inaugural National Children’s Commissioner of Australia and at the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. However, it was through volunteering as a mentor at the Juniperina Juvenile Justice Centre for girls that Sibella came to appreciate Australia’s policy failure of criminalizing and detaining the same children it failed to protect from harm.

Sibella earned her law degree from the University of Sydney and her MPP ’18 from the Harvard Kennedy School, where she was also a Research Assistant for the Program in Criminal Justice Policy and Management. Previously, Sibella worked for the New South Wales Attorney General, a Judge of the Australian Federal Court and an international law firm. Sibella’s writing on girls in the juvenile justice system has been featured in the Kennedy School Review, the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Lawyer’s Alliance Journal: Precedent.