Changes to Youth Justice laws - back to the future

by PeakCare Qld on 2nd December 2015

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The South Australian Child Protection Systems Royal Commission Report, The life they deserve, was released in early August 2016. The report is presented in two volumes. The first volume sets out what the Royal Commission did to examine the adequacy of current laws and policies to protect children and young people, system deficits and 260 recommendations addressing a wide range of structural, system and practice aspects across the SA government and service system. The second volume contains 5 case studies that examine the operation of the system and practice quality in specific areas. Four focus on the individual circumstances of young children, intervening in high risk families, leaving care, and children with complex needs in out of home care.

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Given that many young people who encounter the youth justice system have a current or previous involvement with child protection, PeakCare has a strong interest in youth justice legislative and program reforms. This relates especially to young people who are subject to dual (interim or finalised) orders.

This week, Attorney-General Yvette D’Ath introduced legislation into State Parliament that will overturn many of the more controversial youth justice reforms that occurred during the period of the previous government.  The amendments, if and when proclaimed, will remove boot camp orders as a sentencing option and a breach of bail offence will no longer exist for children.  Findings of guilt for offences committed as a child that are not accompanied by a recorded conviction will not be admissible during sentencing for later offences committed as an adult. 

Provisions allowing for the ‘naming and shaming’ of young people under certain conditions that were introduced by the previous government will also be reversed, although the Bill maintains the use of discretion by courts to allow for the publication of identifying information about young people if the court deems that they have committed heinous and violent offences and the publication of this information is in the public interest.

The amendments reinstate the principle that the imprisonment of a young person should be regarded as a sentence of last resort and a sentence that allows the young person to stay in the community should be regarded as preferable.

In a submission lodged in response to the previous government’s ‘Safer Streets Crime Action Plan’ in 2013, PeakCare stated our concerns about a range of youth justice policy changes that were under consideration at the time.  These concerns related to:

  • Addressing the welfare and justice needs of children and young people in the child protection and youth justice systems (p.4)
  • Enhancing access to prevention and early interventions services for children, young people and families (pp. 4-5)
  • Young people’s participation in administrative and judicial decision-making (p.5)
  • The need for congruence across approaches used by Queensland Government agencies to assist vulnerable families (pp. 5-6)
  • Court reforms (p.6)
  • Reducing the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in the youth justice system (pp. 6- 7)
  • Underpinning reforms with research evidence about effective responses to youth justice issues (p.7)
  • The proposed introduction of boot camps (pp. 10-11)
  • The proposed introduction of public naming laws, a breach of bail offence and access by adult courts to juvenile criminal records when sentencing the young person as an adult (pp. 11-13)
  • Responding to the causes of crime, managing demand for youth justice services, early intervention and diversion from offending and re-offending, and effective government investment (pp. 13-15), and
  • Improving youth detention centres (pp. 15-16).

PeakCare now looks forward to further legislative amendments that will result in the cessation of 17-year old young people being incarcerated in adult prisons, either on remand or sentence. When will this finally happen and this draconian practice end?



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