Last updated 7 August 2017

click to download a pdf of this chapterYouth Offending
The Youth Justice System
Police Diversion of Child Offenders from the Court System
Police Prosecution of a Child
The Childrens Court
Children and Court Processes
Children and Court Bail
Sentencing Regime and other Orders for Child Offenders
Child Offenders in Detention
Lawyers Working with Young Offenders as Clients
Children and the Criminal Law – Tips for Parents

The human brain is undeveloped at birth. The developing brain is directly influenced by early environmental enrichment and social experiences. Experiences can change the brain throughout life, but experiences in the first three years of life organise the brain. The type of experiences an infant has is crucial. Experience wires the brain and ongoing repetition strengthens the wiring.

The brain of the adolescent is remodelling from the child brain and transforming into the adult brain—a process that takes until at least 24 years of age in healthy development. The emotional part of the teen brain has more intense responses in day-to-day firing than that of an adult, because emotional regulation is still developing. Surges in neurotransmitters (dopamine) drive thrill-seeking behaviour in order to obtain rapid rewards.

If trauma or chronic stress has occurred in a teen’s life, brain development is disrupted and delayed and often disorganised and unintegrated, but they are experiencing the same changes and remodelling as the healthy teen brain, only in chaos (Hoehn, 2013).

In Queensland a person under 10 years is not criminally responsible at law for anything they do, or fail to do. Once a child turns 10, they are subject to the criminal justice system, and they can be charged with virtually any offence an adult can be charged with. There is some variation in the legal process in dealing with child offenders by way of recognition that children are still young and developing, and are vulnerable in a system dominated by adults.

Queensland has been the only state or territory in Australia where a person once they turn 17 years of age is considered to be an adult for the purposes of the criminal justice system and will be prosecuted in the adult jurisdiction. This is in breach of Australia’s international obligations and leads to some very perverse outcomes. It is also confusing for young people visiting from interstate, such as during schoolies week. Legislation was passed in November 2016, which provides for 17-year-old youth to be included in the youth justice system within the next 12 months. Until the date is proclaimed, the following information continues to apply to young people 10 to 16 years inclusive.

The Department of Justice and Attorney-General carries the responsibility for youth justice policy and programs as well as the court system.