Last updated 10 May 2022
It is important to understand the context of youth offending.
The number of youth offenders has been decreasing for some years in Queensland, in Australia and in countries such as the UK and Canada. Of the 535 000 10-to-17-year-olds in Queensland, only 0.9% appear in court in a given year. Around 10% of child offenders (about 500 children a year) commit roughly 45% of the offences committed by all youth offenders (Youth Justice Pocket Stats 2019-2020, Department of Children, Youth Justice and Multicultural Affairs).
Most young people who come into contact with police before the age of 18 will not become ‘career criminals’; their contact will be short lived and relatively minor, and they will grow out of offending from late adolescence (Snapshot 2011: Children and Young People in Queensland, Commission for Children and Young People and Child Guardian).
The small group of those who continue to offend share a number of challenges. On a given day in 2019, of children in detention (Youth Justice Pocket Stats 2019-2020):
- 60% had experienced or been impacted by domestic and family violence
- 55% were disengaged from education, training or employment
- 46% had a mental health and/or behavioural disorder (diagnosed or suspected)
- 38% had used ice or other methamphetamines
- 30% had at least one parent who spent time in adult custody
- 29% were in unstable and/or unsuitable accommodation
- 12% had a disability (assessed or suspected).
Children under 14 years old in the justice system are more likely to be experiencing underlying trauma, have an undiagnosed disability, and come from a low socioeconomic background (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2018 National data on the health of justice-involved young people: a feasibility study Cat. no. JUV 125). The younger a child commences in the youth justice system, the more likely they are to remain in it, the more often they are in detention and the more likely they are to return (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2020 Young people returning to sentenced youth justice supervision 2018–19 Juvenile justice series no. 24. Cat. no. JUV 133. Canberra: AIHW).
Some cohorts of children are overrepresented in the justice system, in particular Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children but also other disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as children in contact with the child protection system.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children accounted for 46% of all child defendants in 2019–2020 while comprising only around 7% of all 10 to 17-year-olds in Queensland. The number was significantly higher in the younger ages (93% of 10-year-olds, 82% of 11-year-olds, 66% of 12-year-olds and 59% of 13-year-olds (Childrens Court of Queensland Annual Report 2019-20).
In Queensland, the Youth Justice Report (2018) (the Atkinson Report) noted that 83% of children known to the Queensland youth justice system were also known to Child Safety Services as at 30 June 2014. In 2015–2016, 32% of children in youth detention in Queensland had a child protection order history (Queensland Parliament, Question on Notice, May 2017).