Queensland Law Society

Harsher punishment does not reduce youth crime

Queensland Law Society and the Youth Advocacy Centre today cautioned that the government’s proposed changes to youth justice would not reduce reoffending.

Queensland Law Society president Ian Brown said the existing ’tough on crime’ approach was having limited effect on reducing the total number of young offenders.

“According to the Childrens Court of Queensland’s 2012-13 Annual Report, the total number of child defendants has been largely stable over the last ten years, but there are some persistent repeat offenders,” Mr Brown said.

“This strongly indicates that to address youth crime, the most appropriate and effective way would be to focus targeted intervention strategies on this group of young people, not radically reform youth justice legislation aimed at all children and young people.

“Our issues with the proposed changes range from impeding judicial discretion to contravening international conventions.

“The government’s proposal to remove detention as a last resort is troubling, particularly as it states that courts cannot regard this principle in decision making.

“This will impact upon the judiciary’s ability to make sentencing orders that are appropriate to meet children’s individual circumstances.

“We also strongly object to publicly naming a child coming before the courts, which could create a major obstacle to getting them back on the right track.

“Naming and shaming interferes with the right to privacy in international conventions and is inconsistent with the purpose of our youth justice system.

Youth Advocacy Centre director Janet Wight said the proposed changes would not address the causes of youth offending and would increase the alienation and isolation of at-risk children.

“The Youth Advocacy Centre deals every day with young offenders from diverse backgrounds, but the one constant is that many of these young people are affected by traumatic incidents or situations, including, violence, homelessness, mental health and drug and alcohol issues,” Ms Wight said.

“Seventy per cent of young people in the youth justice system are known to the child protection system.

“In the long term, it is more beneficial for the community to ensure that young people are supported to stop committing further crimes by addressing underlying personal circumstances.”

Mr Brown said the concerns of Queensland Law Society and the Youth Advocacy Centre that these measures would have limited effect on youth crime were reinforced by comments made by the Acting Assistant Director-General, Youth Justice, Department of Justice and Attorney-General at the Parliamentary Committee at the public hearing on 3 March:

“Am I asking too much to ask whether there is any material, peer reviewed, that can point to these measures having any prospect of changing the present dynamic?”

Mr William Byrne, MP


“There is no immediate evidence available to us to make that.”

Mr Sean Harvey, Acting Assistant Director-General, Youth Justice, Department of Justice and Attorney-General