About the youth justice system

For free and confidential legal advice about this topic, please contact us here.

The law in New South Wales has a special system to deal with young people who have committed crimes called the Young Offenders Act 1997 (NSW).  The Young Offenders Act 1997 provides alternatives to going to court if you have broken the law, like warnings,  formal cautions and youth justice conferences. We explain more about the Young Offenders Act 1997 and these alternatives below.

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Who is covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997?

The Young Offenders Act 1997 covers young people aged between 10 and 17 years at the time when they allegedly broke the law. This is to recognise that young people should not be treated the same as adults when they break the law.

If you are 18 or over but your problem happened when you were under 18, your problem can still be dealt under the Young Offenders Act 1997 while you are under 21.

What crimes are covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997?

Not every crime is covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997.  Some of the crimes that are covered are:

  • Shoplifting;
  • Offensive language;
  • Causing damage to property;
  • Having or drinking alcohol in a public place; and
  • Breaking and entering into a house and stealing (if what was stolen was worth $60,000 or less).

What crimes are not covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997?

Some crimes that are not covered by the Young Offenders Act 1997 include:

  • traffic offences (anything to do with driving a car, like speeding or drink driving);
  • sexual offences;
  • stalking/intimidation offences, or breaches of an apprehended violence order;
  • if someone has died as a result of the crime; and
  • most drug offences, except for possession of very small amounts of the drug.

These crimes will be dealt with through regular legal processes, including going to court.  See our page on Crime, the law and criminal records for more information about these crimes and what happens if you are accused of doing them.

What punishment can be given under the Young Offenders Act 1997?

The Young Offenders Act 1997 says that you should be given the punishment that gives you the most freedom possible, while still being appropriate in the circumstances.

According to the Young Offenders Act 1997, you may be given:

If a warning is not appropriate, an officer may decide to give you a caution. If a caution is not appropriate, an officer may decide that you need to attend a conference.

What you get depends on:

  • The seriousness of the crime
  • The degree of violence involved in the crime
  • The harm caused to any victim
  • The number and kind of crimes you have committed in the past
  • The number of times you have been dealt with under the Young Offenders Act 1997
  • Whether there is an appropriate alternative to criminal proceedings (which means charging you with a crime)

To be able to get one of these alternatives:

  • your parents may be involved;
  • you may have to admit what you’ve done and take responsibility for it; and
  • you may also have to talk to the person who you’ve harmed and apologise.

Does going through the youth justice system affect your criminal record?

Crimes that are dealt with under the Young Offenders Act 1997 will not be part of your criminal history.

You do not need to tell anyone about a warning, caution or conference unless it is about:

  • an application to be a police officer, prison officer, teacher and some other professions;
  • proceedings before the Children’s Court; or
  • an application for a working with children check clearance.

If you’re under 25 and you’ve been accused of a crime and want to know what could happen, please contact us here and we can give you free advice and information. Everything you tell us will be kept confidential.


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