Our Opinion

Youth Justice in Australia 2017-18

Last Friday, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) released their annual Youth Justice in Australia 2017-18 report.

This report presents information about the young people in Australia who were under youth justice supervision during 2017–18, both in the community and in detention. There are some very interesting findings for the Queensland context. Some selected highlights are summarised below.

Note the use of rates per 10 000 young people, as well as raw numbers and percentages, to compensate for variations in population, so easier comparisons can be made between jurisdictions.

Overview of all young people under youth justice supervision – community based and detention

Nationally, in 2017-18, the overall rate of young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision on an average day was about 21 per 10 000, which equates to about 1 in every 486 young people. The rate of young people under supervision was lowest in Victoria (12 per 10 000), and highest in the Northern Territory (59 per 10 000), with Queensland higher than the national average at 30 per 10 000. Queensland had the largest group of young people under supervision (29% of the total 5 513 young people across all states and territories).

When these overall national supervision figures are broken down, 17 per 10 000 young people were under community-based supervision, and 4 per 10 000 were in detention.

For community-based supervision, the rate of young people ranged from 10 per 10 000 in Victoria to 43 per 10 000 in the Northern Territory, with Queensland at 26 per 10 000 (second highest in the nation). For detention, the rates ranged from 2 per 10 000 in Victoria and Tasmania to 15 per 10 000 in the Northern Territory, with Queensland at 4 per 10 000 (national average and third highest).

Queensland overview

In Queensland, on an average day in 2017-18, 1623 young people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people represent 58% of these young people. The majority of young people (1423 or 88%) were supervised in the community and 209 or 13% were in detention (totals might not sum due to rounding, and because some young people were under community-based supervision and in detention on the same day). 87% of those in detention in Queensland were unsentenced (awaiting the outcome of their court matter or sentencing).

Gender

Nationally, the majority of young people under youth justice supervision were male (81%) with Queensland having slightly lower figures at 77%.

Age

Nationally, 81% of young people under youth justice supervision were aged 14-17. About 12% were aged 18 and over, and 7% were aged 10–13. The age profiles of young people under supervision varied among the states and territories. Western Australia and Queensland had the largest proportions of young people aged 10–13 under supervision (14% and 11%, respectively). In Queensland, this is partly due to the fact that young people who were aged 17 or over when they allegedly committed offences were processed in the adult criminal justice system prior to February 2018.

On average, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people under youth justice supervision were younger than their non-Indigenous counterparts. This was the case among both males and females. About half (48%) of all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people under supervision were aged 10–15, compared with one-third (33%) of non-Indigenous young people.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people

Although only about 5% of young people aged 10–17 in Australia are Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, almost half (49%) of the young people aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day in 2017–18 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. The rate of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander young people under supervision was 187 per 10 000, compared with 11 per 10 000 for non-Indigenous young people. This means Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people were 17 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be under youth justice supervision (this has risen from 16 over the previous five years).

In Queensland, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people make up 7% of those aged 10-17 and were 17 times as likely as non-Indigenous young people to be under youth justice supervision, the same as the national average.

Over-representation was higher in detention (23 times the non-Indigenous rate nationally and 32 times the non-Indigenous rate in Queensland).

Remote location

Although most young people under supervision had come from cities and regional areas, those from geographically remote areas had the highest rates of supervision. On an average day in 2017–18, young people aged 10–17 who were from remote areas were 6 times as likely to be under supervision as those from major cities, while those from very remote areas were 9 times as likely.

Socioeconomic area

More than 1 in 3 young people (36%) under supervision on an average day in 2017–18 were from the lowest socioeconomic areas, compared with 5% from the highest socioeconomic areas.

Sentenced and unsentenced detention

On an average day in 2017–18, more than half of all young people in detention nationally were unsentenced (60%), usually on remand, with the highest number (87%) in Queensland. Conversely, Queensland also has the lowest percentage of young people in detention who have been sentenced (17%). The national rate of young people aged 10–17 in unsentenced detention on an average day in 2017–18 was 2 per 10 000. The rate was lowest in Victoria (1 per 10 000) and highest in the Northern Territory (12 per 10 000) with Queensland second highest on 3.5 per 10 000.

The total amount of time young people spent in unsentenced detention during 2017–18 ranged from 33 days in South Australia to 63 days in Queensland.

Completed periods of detention on remand were more likely to be followed by a community based sentence than by a detention sentence in Queensland than other jurisdictions.

Trends over time

Trends over the last five years show the rate of young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision on an average day fell in all states and territories, except the Australian Capital Territory. In Queensland, the rate fell from 31 to 27 per 10 000, before rising to 30 per 10 000 in 2017–18. This was in part due to new legislation in Queensland to transfer young people aged 17 years from the adult justice system to youth justice supervision in February 2018.

In Queensland and Tasmania, although the overall rate of all young people subject to youth justice supervision fell, the rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people under supervision rose.

Detention rates fell or remained steady in all states and territories except Victoria and Queensland, where rates increased slightly.

Child Protection Youth Justice intersection

The AIHW also produced a report last year linking child protection and youth justice data to provide 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.

While it is not new news, this research again shows that the circumstances and risk factors resulting in children and young people experiencing abuse or neglect are correlated with a greater risk of engaging in criminal activity, and of entering the youth justice system. 47.7% of those under youth justice supervision had also received child protection services during the period. Those in detention were more likely to have received child protection services (53.0%) than those under community-based supervision (48.0%). The younger people were at first supervision, the more likely they were to also have received child protection services during the period (68.3% of those aged 10 at first supervision, compared with 22.8% of those aged 17).

Final thoughts

The sobering Queensland data reinforces the importance of a whole of government approach to child protection reform and the importance of the recent Queensland government announcement committing significant investment to youth justice reforms in support of the Youth Justice Strategy released last year, which was based on ‘four pillars’ of reform – intervene early, keep children out of court, keep children out of custody and reduce reoffending.

PeakCare is especially encouraged in relation to the commitment to evidence-based initiatives that prevent youth crime and divert children from detention and the approach to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, communities and organisations as best placed to design and deliver the services that will work best for their children, young people and families.

PeakCare looks forward to working in collaboration with partners in the sector and government who are engaged, through youth justice, child protection and other systems, in working with children, young people and their families, to deliver a better future for Queensland children.

 

Read the full reports here –

AIHW 2019. Youth Justice in Australia 2017-18.

AIHW 2018. Young people in child protection and under youth justice supervision 1 July 2013 – 30 June 2017.

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