Juvenile offenders – Are they out of control?

There has been no shortage of reporting of high-profile crimes being committed by children in the media. In Queensland, a juvenile is someone who is under the age of 18 years, and their behaviour and treatment by the courts are different from an adult, who is someone who has reached the age of 18 years.

It seems like every day, splashed across newspapers, television and social media, there will be a story about a juvenile (or, more commonly, group of juveniles) who are involved in a violent, brazen or downright shocking crime. The ones that are typically seen involve the brandishing of knives, the burglary of homes, the stealing of cars, a terribly violent act or a combination of all of these. What is increasingly common amongst juvenile offenders is the capturing of their criminal acts on camera and publication of those videos on social media, such as Facebook, Instagram or TikTok.

When these videos are studied carefully it can be seen that sometimes these juveniles are committing the crimes simply so that they can boast about them. Sometimes even groups of juveniles appear to ‘compete’ with other groups of juveniles to see who can steal the most cars, who can steal the nicest cars or who can generally commit the most shocking crimes.

Is the rise in social media largely to blame for this? Maybe, or maybe not. But if one were to view the statistics before and after the introduction of social media it would probably be safe to bet that these sorts of crimes were not committed in the sorts of numbers that they are being committed in modern day.

So who is to blame for this rise in crime? The offenders themselves? Or does the blame lay more with their parents for not properly supervising them? Or perhaps even with the community, for not giving them enough opportunity to engage in pro-social activities such as sports and other hobbies. These are all extremely complicated issues and if one thing is for certain it’s that there is no one right solution to it.

Changes in law in Queensland

In response to the shocking rise in juvenile crime the Queensland government has introduced reforms to the law that it hopes will curb juvenile offending.

There are a number of pieces of legislation that deal with juvenile offenders. In addition to the Criminal Code Act 1899, which stipulates the offences and their maximum penalties and the Bail Act 1980, which deals with the considerations of bail, treatment and punishment of juveniles are also dealt with under the Youth Justice Act 1992.

On 22 March 2023, a new piece of legislation known as the Strengthening Community Safety Act 2023 came into effect, amending the Youth Justice Act 1992 and other legislation.

The amendments to the Youth Justice Act 1992:

• extend and expand the trial of electronic monitoring devices as a condition of bail for a further 2 years to include eligible 15-year-olds
• expand the list of offences with a presumption against bail to include people who are passengers in stolen vehicles and enter premises with intent to commit an indictable offence
• confirm in legislation that a court is to take into account the young person’s bail history when sentencing
• empower a sentencing court to declare a child a ‘serious repeat offender’ (SRO) to enable considerations such as community safety to be paramount when sentencing
• extend the maximum duration of a conditional release order (CRO) from 3 months to 6 months
• ensure child offenders given a CRO for more serious offending are more likely to serve their suspended term of detention if they breach their CRO
• in certain circumstances allow the transfer of 18-year-olds to correctional centres rather than detention centres
• ensure the continuation of multi-agency collaborative panels (MACPs) which facilitate coordinated case management for young people identified as high risk or requiring a collaborative response.

The amendments to the Criminal Code Act 1899:

• increase the maximum sentence for unlawful use of motor vehicle offences and introduce new circumstances of aggravation, including where an offender has published boastful material of their offending behaviour on social media, and
• require unlawful use of motor vehicle offences with a circumstance of aggravation involving violence or being armed to be heard by a judge, attracting higher penalties.

Looking at the specific issue of bail, previously it was not legal to hold children at watch houses for extended periods. Young people were required to be transferred into a youth detention centre as soon as possible after they had been remanded. Under the new provision, children may be held in watch houses indefinitely. However, it is still not lawful for a young person to be detained in an adult prison.

Dealing with juvenile offenders is an extremely complicated process and there are a multitude of factors to consider. The Queensland government takes the simplistic view that if current laws are not working to curb a particular type of offence, or a particular type of offender, then they need to simply change the laws. The changes in juvenile offender law have been met with widespread criticism, many of whom claim that they breach fundamental human rights.

As to whether or not these laws will be effective in managing the current ‘youth crime crisis’ that the media says exists will be a matter to be seen.

If you’re needing assistance with legal matters or determining your legal rights, Cridland & Hua are the specialists amongst Brisbane Law Firms, practising exclusively in criminal and quasi-criminal law. Contact us today.

    Back to all articles