The youth justice system

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What is the youth justice system?

In Queensland, the Youth Justice Act 1992 (‘the Act’) provides an alternative to court proceedings for young people who commit certain offences. The Act establishes a scheme of warnings, formal cautions, early intervention boot camps and youth justice conferences. A detention order (prison) should only be given as a last resort.  

The law emphasises the importance of the involvement of parents and guardians, the importance of offenders accepting responsibility for their actions, and the importance of community based solutions.

On 12 February 2018, the law was changed to include young offenders aged 17, bringing Queensland in line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and the law in all other Australian states.

Who is covered by the youth justice system?

The Act covers young people aged between 10 and 17 years at the time of the alleged offence. It does not cover you once you are 18 years of age.

What offences are covered by the youth justice system?

Not all criminal offences are covered by the Act. Some examples of offences that you may receive a warning, caution or referral to a youth justice conference for include:

  • Shoplifting;
  • Offensive language;
  • Driving dangerously;
  • Causing damage to property
  • Drinking alcohol with friends at a park
  • Drink spiking
  • Breaking and entering into a house and stealing

Offences not covered by the Act include:

  • assault
  • sexual offences,
  • stalking/intimidation offences, or breaches of an apprehended violence order,
  • if someone has died as a result of the offence,
  • most drug offences, except for possession of very small amounts.

These offences will be dealt with through regular legal processes, including going to court and may also involve referral to a Youth Justice Conference.  See our page on criminal law for more information.

What will happen to me if I have committed a crime?

If the crime is not very serious, the police officer must first consider it’s appropriate to:

(a) to take no action; or
(b) to give you a caution; or
(c) to refer the offence to a Youth Justice Conference; or
(d) if your offence is a minor drugs offence, to offer you the opportunity to attend a drug diversion assessment program.

When making this decision, the police have to think about:

  • whether you have previously broken the law
  • whether you have broken the law in the same way before
  • if you’ve ever been given a caution before.

In very serious cases, a police officer can obtain a warrant for your arrest or, in some circumstances, arrest you for an offence without a warrant.  But this is quite unlikely.

If you’re 18 or under 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.

Warnings

Sometimes if you have broken the law, the police can do nothing and just give you an informal warning.  You’ll know if you got a warning if the police officer didn’t give you any paperwork or say that they’d send anything to your house.

Formal Cautions

A caution is a formal warning. It is more serious than a warning.

What crimes can I get a formal caution for?

You can receive a caution for any of the crimes covered by the Youth Justice Act 1992 (‘the Act’).

You are able to receive a formal caution if:

  • you admit the offence to the police officer; and
  • you agree to being cautioned.

How are cautions given?

Police do not give formal cautions on-the-spot.

The caution is given by a senior police officer, or sometimes, a respected member of the community, such as an Aboriginal elder. The person giving the caution must take steps to ensure that the child understands the purpose, nature and effect of the caution, and the caution may only be given if the child is accompanied by a parent or an adult chosen by the child or a parent.

Once a caution has been given, the police officer needs to give the child a notice of caution. The notice of caution will state a number of things, including that a caution was given, the time, date and place the caution was given at, the child’s name, details of the offence, and the police officer’s name and rank.

What happens after I receive a caution?

If you receive a caution, no further action can be taken against you about that offence. You receive a caution instead of having any other criminal penalty. There cannot be any conditions or further penalties but you can be asked to write an apology to the victim.

How do formal cautions affect your record?

A formal caution won’t be recorded as a prior offence and generally won’t appear in criminal record checks. The only exception to this is if you are applying for certain jobs like as a police officer, teacher or a judge.

Other situations where the caution might be brought up in court in the future are:

  • If you go before a court for a future offence and your lawyer argues that you should’ve gotten a caution instead of a criminal charge, the court can dismiss the charge and a caution can be given instead. In deciding whether to dismiss the charge, the court can consider whether you have already received a caution in the past.
  • The court can consider any previous cautions you have received when deciding criminal responsibility.

If you’re 18 or under 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.

Youth Justice Conferences

Youth justice conferences are more serious than formal cautions, but less serious than court proceedings.

The purpose of a conference is for the people involved in an offence (including the offender and the victim) to make decisions about how the offender can make up for their crime. For example, the people at the conference might agree that the offender will do community service, attend a rehabilitation program or write an apology to the victim. This is an alternative to going to court.

These types of punishments are intended to promote the development of the young offender within their family group, to be the least restrictive option that is appropriate and to help the offender accept responsibility for their offences.

The people who are allowed to participate in a conference are: the offender, the offender’s parent or carer, adult members of the offender’s family, an adult chosen by the offender, the offender’s lawyer, a police officer, the victim, a member of the victim’s family, the victim’s support person, the victim’s lawyer, the convenor, and another person decided by the convenor. If the child is an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander community, the convenor must also consider inviting a respected person of the community or a representative of the community justice group (if there is one).

The conference is run by a youth justice conference convenor and will help everyone talk about what happened and how it has affected everyone. Conferences usually take about 2 hours.

Eligibility for a Youth Justice Conference

You can attend a youth justice conference:

  • you admit to the offence;
  • a referral to conferencing is more appropriate than starting a proceeding;
  • a caution is inappropriate;
  • a convenor is available for the conference

In deciding whether to refer a matter for youth justice conferencing, a police officer must look at the nature of the offence, the harm suffered by others, and whether both the community’s and the child’s interests would be served by having the offence dealt with by a conference.

The Conference

The conference is not run by police, but by a convenor appointed by the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.  A conference convenor is responsible for convening the conference, and must direct the conference towards making an agreement. The convenor can run the conference in a way he or she thinks is suitable for the people attending.

If a child is not legally represented, the convenor needs to make sure that the child is aware of the right to obtain legal advice, has reasonable information on how to obtain legal advice and has a reasonable opportunity to do so.

The purpose of the conference is to reach a conference agreement that must be agreed to and signed by the convenor, the child, the police officer, and the victim if he or she chooses to participate.

The conference agreement may contain recommendations to pay compensation, for voluntary work to be completed by the child, an apology to the victim, the child’s future conduct, and any other matter the convenor thinks is appropriate.

If a child disobeys a conference agreement, a police officer may give a caution, make another reference for youth justice conference, or bring proceedings against the child.

How do Youth Justice Conferences affect a child’s record?

If a police officer decides to refer the matter to youth justice conferencing, no further action can be taken against you for that offence.

If an agreement is reached in a youth justice conference, the agreement is not part of the child’s criminal records.

You may have to tell future employers if you apply for certain jobs where you are asked to state your criminal history, for example being a judge, a police officer, a teacher or someone who works with children.  Please contact us here if you have question about these jobs and your record.

Penalties given by a Court

What are the penalties of the Children’s Court?

If you have not yet turned 17 years old and have been found guilty of a crime by the Children’s Court, you should know about all the different types of penalties (sometimes called ‘sentences’) you could be facing.

Remember that when choosing a penalty, the Court will consider the seriousness of your actions and any previous criminal record you have. They might also take into account things like your age, level of maturity, family relationship and where you live, work or go to school.

Below is an overview of the Children’s Court penalties. The Court might choose one penalty or a combination of two or more.

Reprimand

The Court may decide to reprimand you. This means they will give you a very stern warning and talking to about your behaviour.

If you are given this order, it means the Court has decided to let you off without a conviction. So even though you were found guilty of something, the matter will not show up on your criminal record. This usually only happens when you’re in trouble for doing something less serious, such as littering.

Good behaviour order

If the Court finds you guilty of a crime, they might give you a good behaviour order for a period of up to one year. This means that you must not commit any crimes for the period of the order.If you do, you will be in breach of your order. While the Court cannot punish you for breaching your order, they might take into account the breach when they sentence you for the new crime.

If you are given a good behaviour order, the conviction will not be recorded against your name.

Fine

The Court may decide to order you to pay a fine. The maximum amount they can make you pay will depend on what you’ve done. However, in deciding how much to fine you, the Court has to decide whether you have the ability to pay the fine. They will probably take into account things like whether you have a job and how much money you have in your bank account. Keep in mind that if you are not working and have no source of income, it is unlikely that the Court will order you to pay a fine. The idea is that it is you, not your parents or carer, who is being punished!

If the Court orders you to pay a fine and you do not pay all or any of it within the time frame specified, you will be brought back to Court where they may either decide to take no action, give you extra time to pay the amount, or order you to perform community service work instead.

Probation order

You may be given a probation order if the Court finds you guilty of doing something pretty serious, and you agree to it. Similar to a good behaviour order, this order means you cannot commit a crime for a period of up to 2 years.

In addition, the Court will probably make you follow conditions, such as being home every night by 7pm (curfew), going to school or attending medical, psychological or drug counselling.

You will also be required to have visits with an officer from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General, who will be responsible for supervising your order and will help you work through any problems you are having. You will have to notify this worker of any changes to your employment, school, or living arrangements.

If, at the end of the term of your probation order, you have followed all the orders or not had to go back to Court for getting in trouble, your matter is finished and you will have served your sentence. But if you don’t follow all of the conditions of the order and someone finds out, you might be brought back to Court and sentenced again. The Court may then make you follow more conditions or even cancel the order and sentence you to a more serious penalty

Community service order

If you are 13 years old or more, and you agree to it, the Court may order you to do unpaid community service work.  Before the Court makes this order, they will need a report from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General which states that you are a suitable person for community work, and that there is work available.

If you are 13 or 14 years old, the maximum number of hours of community service the Court can assign you is 100. If you are 15 or 16 years old, the maximum number is 200 hours.

If you don’t do the work as specified in the order (after you have agreed to do it), it is likely that you will have to go back to Court where they may increase the number of hours you have to do, or may cancel the order and sentence you to a more serious penalty.

Intensive supervision order

If you are found guilty of a serious crime, the Court may sentence you to an intensive supervision order.  If you are between 10-12 years old, the Court can only sentence you to an intensive supervision order for a maximum time of 6 months. The Court will make this order only if you agree to it, and if the Court thinks that you might commit another offence. It’s similar to a probation order because you will have to follow a lot of conditions, such as curfew or staying away from certain places. But the conditions are stricter and more sternly enforced.

The order will also require you to participate in an intensive supervision program. The program includes activities such as a conference between you and your family, supervision by an officer from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General and other activities as required, such as drug and alcohol counselling.

Remember that these conditions are managed intensively and if they are not followed, it may mean a return to detention.

Conditional release order

The Court might sentence you to a conditional release order. This means that although the Court has ordered you to spend time in a detention centre, they have suspended this from happening so you can demonstrate to the Court that you are capable of good behaviour and staying out of trouble. You will be able to live at home, but you will have to participate in a conditional release program for 3 months. As part of the program, you may be required to attend work, school, and counselling and participate in community activities.

You may also be required to follow strict conditions such as regularly reporting to an officer from the Department of Justice and Attorney-General or having a curfew. If, at the end of the conditional release program period, you have followed all the conditions, you will not have to spend any time at a detention centre. If however, before the program period has expired, you break any of your conditions or commit another crime, the Court might decide to send you to detention for the entire time originally set down.

Sometimes the Court will make a conditional release order after you have spent some time in detention, instead of straight away.

Boot camp order

If you are over 13 years old, the Court might sentence you to a boot camp order for a 3-6 month period. This means that although the Court has ordered you to spend time in a detention centre, the Court has suspended this from happening so you can demonstrate to the Court that you are capable of good behaviour and staying out of trouble. You will be able to live at home, but will have to follow a strict boot camp program. This includes living at a boot camp centre for 1 month, and then living at home with an intensive supervision order for up to 5 months.

If, at the end of the boot camp program period, you have followed all the conditions, you will no longer have to spend any time at a detention centre.  If however, before the program period has expired, you break any of your conditions or commit another crime, the Court might decide to send you to detention for the entire time they originally ordered.

Detention order

If the Court decides that you’ve committed such a serious crime that none of the other penalties are suitable, the Court can imprison you in a youth detention centre, for a maximum period of up to 5 years. Most young people who are given this sentence have committed crimes before.

While in detention, you may be required to attend school, play sports and attend programs to address any issues you may have with alcohol, drugs, or anger management.

School Suspensions

If you have been charged with a crime, and you go to a State school, your principal can decide to suspend you. However, if it is not a serious crime, your principal can only suspend you if they think that it is not in the best interests of the other students and staff for you to be at school.

If you’re 18 and under 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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