Last updated 8 January 2018. This chapter is under review.

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 recognition of the above, in Queensland a child 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 those under 18 are still young and developing, and are vulnerable in a system dominated by adults.

From mid-February 2018, the upper age limit for the youth justice system in Queensland has been raised to 17 years—making it the same as the rest of Australia and in line with Australia’s international obligations. This means that a person who has turned 10 years of age but had not turned 18 at the time they allegedly did something which is against the law will be dealt with in the youth justice system. For this chapter, the term ‘child’ means a person who has turned 10 years of age but not yet turned 18.

Up to this time, 17-year-olds have been treated as adults under the criminal law. There will be a number of young people who are 17 on the day this change occurs who are already in the system and their matter has not been finalised by the court, they may have been sentenced to a supervised community order with Corrective Services or they may be in prison on remand or sentence. There is a special set of rules for these young people (transitional arrangements), and if this affects you, you should speak to a lawyer about what this means for you. If you are alleged to have broken the law when you were 17 but were not charged or ordered to appear in court until after the change of age limit, you will go to the Childrens Court.

The Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women has responsibility for youth and justice policy and programs.