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Police usually have discretion to address offences committed by children informally or to refer the matter to a Children’s Court.

States and territories make their own laws governing juvenile justice. While modern laws tend to be similar, each state takes its own approach. This article compares how four states try to meet the challenge of dealing with juvenile offenders.

NSW

The juvenile justice system in New South Wales deals with offenders between the ages of 10 and 17. The Department of Juvenile Justice in NSW is considered to be both a justice agency and a social services agency.

The Young Offenders Act 1997 encourages the NSW police to use alternatives to court with regard to certain young offenders. Alternatives include giving cautions or referring offenders to youth justice conferences that may involve a meeting with the crime victim.

Criminal charges against juveniles in NSW that cannot be resolved less formally are usually heard by Children’s Court, although charges concerning very serious offences may be brought in the District or Supreme Courts. The focus of Children’s Court is to balance correction with the need to provide guidance and assistance. In most cases, the court tries to allow children to live at home and to pursue their education or employment without interruption.

VIC

The Children and Young Persons Act 1989 covers juvenile offenses in Victoria. The Victorian Juvenile Justice Program is administered by the Department of Human Services. It deals with offenders between the ages of 10 and 17.

The juvenile justice system in Victoria takes a strong diversionary approach to children who enter the criminal justice system. When children do face criminal charges, they are handled by the criminal division of the Children’s Court. The law requires the court to follow these principles:

  • the relationship between child and family should be strengthened and preserved
  • it is better to allow children to remain at home and to continue their education and employment without interruption
  • the stigma of receiving a court order should be minimized
  • young people should be held accountable and the community should be protected from violent behaviour

Incarceration occurs in Juvenile Justice custodial centres. The Department of Human Services has a number of programs to assist young offenders after their release from custody.

QLD

Pursuant to the Juvenile Justice Act 1992, the Department of Communities is responsible for administering juvenile justice in Queensland. The juvenile justice system deals with offenders between the ages of 10 and 16.

The goals of juvenile justice are to prevent young people from committing new offenses and to take a restorative rather than punitive approach to correcting behaviour. The Department of Communities provides youth justice conferencing at youth justice service centres. Services offered at the centres focus on supervision and rehabilitation of offenders.

The Department also operates a court services unit and two youth detention centres. A specialized program attempts to reduce the number of young people held in detention on remand by finding appropriate accommodations for them. Another program tries to help offenders who have reached the age of 15 find job training and employment.

SA

The youth justice system in South Australia was established by the South Australian Young Offenders Act 1993. It treats offenders as juveniles if they are between the ages of 10 and 17.

The police in South Australia generally make a judgment call about handing a juvenile offender informally or referring the case to Youth Court. Dispositions include informal cautions that are issued “on the spot” for minor offences and formal cautions where a more serious offence is committed.

The police may decide to refer a serious offence for a family conference rather than sending it to Youth Court. If the offender admits the offence at the conference, an appropriate disposition will be administered, generally involving community supervision. If the offender denies the offence, the case will go to Youth Court.

Disclaimer : This article is just a summary of the subject matter being discussed and should not be regarded as a comprehensive legal advice for you to defend yourself alone. If you are charged with criminal offences, it is recommended that you seek legal assistance from criminal lawyers.

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