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Alternatives to incarceration have become the first choice for children who commit offences in Australia.

At one point in the history of Australia, juvenile offenders were treated like little adults. Even children as young as age 6 were incarcerated to punish them for committing crimes. As times have changed, lawmakers and judges have taken a different approach to juvenile offences.

Who is a juvenile?

In Queensland, a juvenile is defined as a child between the ages of 10 and 16. In all other Australian jurisdictions, juveniles are children between the ages of 10 and 17. In every jurisdiction, children under the age of 10 have no criminal responsibility. Correction of their behaviour is left to parents or, in some cases, to social services agencies.

What offences do juveniles commit?

As a group, juveniles tend to commit minor property crimes rather than violent crimes. Common crimes include shoplifting, vandalism, graffiti, and car theft. Of course, juveniles also commit more serious offences, but not with the same frequency as adults.

How has Australia’s view of juvenile justice changed?

Research demonstrates that brain development is not complete until a young person reaches his or her early 20s. That explains what every parent knows — children are not as mature as adults. They do not appreciate the consequences of their behaviour. They tend to be more impulsive and more easily swayed by their peers than adults.

While that research does not mean that juveniles should not be held accountable for their misconduct, it does undermine the notion that juveniles should be punished as if they were adults. Modern juvenile justice laws are premised on the belief that a child is not as responsible as an adult would be who commits the same offence.

Every jurisdiction in Australia now has a separate system for handling juvenile offenders. Those systems view incarceration as a last resort. With the expectation that children will eventually “grow out” of their anti-social behaviour, the focus of juvenile justice is on helping offenders make better decisions in the future.

Are juveniles still incarcerated?

Juveniles who commit serious crimes, particularly as repeat offenders, are still incarcerated in Australia, but not as often as they were in the past. In 1981, about 70 children for every 100,000 citizens were detained. That number dropped to 37 by 2008. More than half of juveniles who are detained are on remand, meaning they have not yet been sentenced.

What are the options for juvenile offenders?

The police are typically encouraged to divert juvenile offenders from the criminal justice system. Police often have the authority to handle juvenile offences by:

  • cautioning the offender
  • requiring the offender to meet with the victim (a process known as “restorative justice” that helps the offender understand the impact that the offence had upon the victim)
  • sending the offender to a specialty court (such as a youth drug and alcohol court) that emphasizes counseling or treatment rather than punishment

In more serious cases, however, juveniles are still referred to the criminal justice system.

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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