Youth Justice Reforms
By treating 17 year olds as adults in the criminal justice system, Queensland has been inconsistent not only with the rest of the country, but also in breach the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Under proposed youth justice reforms, 17 year olds are to be considered children. It is anticipated that all children under the age of 18 year will proceed through the Youth Justice System. The proposed reforms are hoped to reduce the rate of recidivism by diverting the youths from the Adult system and providing assistance.
It is well recognised amongst stakeholders that the youth justice system provides:
- Greater capacity for offenders to be diverted away from the Court system;
- Access to age appropriate education, training and programs;
- Age appropriate support and supervision in custody;
- Reduced access to the influence of adult offenders; and
- The benefit of sentencing principles with prioritise support and rehabilitation in the community.
Children who do not have their basic health and welfare needs being met are at a greater risk of re-offending. Youth require greater levels of education, training and engagement in employment if they are to avoid the statistics of returning to custody. The youth justice system is better suited to meeting these needs.
Amendment to Youth Justice Act
On 15 September 2016, the Attorney General, Ms D’Ath introduced the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (inclusion of 17 year old Persons) Amendment Bill 2016. The purpose of the Bill is to recognise that 17 year olds are youths and not adults. Importantly 17 year olds are to be included in the upper age of a ‘child’ for the purposes of the Youth Justice Act. The definition of a ‘child’ will now include a person under the age of 18 years.
The Bill will commence by proclamation 12 months after passage. The delay is to account for the need to ensure that necessary planning is undertaken to facilitate a safe and proper transition.
It is envisaged that there will be broadly three categories of youth that the amendment will apply to:
- 17 year old charged after proclamation;
- 17 year olds subject to current proceedings; and
- 17 year olds currently serving a custodial sentence.
17 year olds yet to be charged
This group will be treated as a child for the purpose of the Act. The traditional application of part 6, division 11 of the Act will continue to govern the principles where a juvenile offender turns 18 prior to the commencement of proceedings.
17 year olds subject to current proceedings
The Bill proposes that the Court will have a discretion as to how to deal with those who are turning 18 close the finalisation of their sentence. The new subsection 390(3) will provide a broad power for a court to make an order or give a direction of ensure that any unanticipated scenarios can be dealt with appropriately.
17 year olds service a sentence
The Bill does not interfere with Sentence Orders made prior to commencement. It will however, provide for the administration of those orders as 17 year olds in the Youth Justice System rather than the adult system.
If a 17 year old was sentenced to an adult probation order, that order would continue. The supervision of the Order would however be administered as though it were a Youth Justice Probation Order.
Similarly, a 17 year old, sentenced to imprisonment would serve that term of imprisonment in a youth detention centre. The detention would be subject to the relevant provisions of the Youth Justice Act. The youth would be released on a Supervised Release Order in place of Parole and/or would transition to an adult corrective services facility on reaching a certain age.
Click here to read more about the Inclusion of 17- year-old Persons Amendment Bill 2016
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