Restorative justice series – The Context: Youth Justice and the ‘Youth Crime Crisis’

 The Queensland Government passed the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2021 (Amendment Act) earlier this year in the wake of recent controversies and debate regarding youth justice and the ‘youth crime crisis’.

This blog is the first in a series that looks at restorative justice for child and youth offenders. This first blog will provide some context regarding the current youth justice framework and recent developments. We will look at key statistics regarding youth offending, the reforms introduced by the Amendment Act, and some key youth justice principles already underpinning our legislation.

 The second blog in the series will focus on youth sentencing and its distinctions from adult sentencing.  The final blog will provide an overview of the restorative justice conferences and the role they play in youth justice.


Youth Offending – Key Statistics

 By way of background, although rates of young people in detention have been decreasing,[1] there was increased visibility of youth crime – specifically hooning and related incidents – in the last year.

Other important statistics to keep in mind that contextualise these reforms:

  • On an average night in the June quarter 2020, about 2 in 3 (511 or 64%) young people in detention were un-sentenced.[2]
  • Just 11% of youth offenders were considered chronic offenders who engaged in persistent offending behaviour throughout childhood and into adulthood.[3]
  • 48% of young people received into detention during 2019-20 were received more than once.[4]
  • More than half of young people aged 10-17 under youth justice supervision during 2018-19 had received a child protection service in the five years from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019.[5]
  • Just under half (48%) of all young people in detention were Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, demonstrating a significant overrepresentation as Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up just 6% of the Australian population aged 10-17.[6]


Reforms under the Amendment Act

The main objective of the Amendment Act was to address recidivism in youth offenders and ensure community safety.[7] This was done by expanding the tools accessible to police and courts. Importantly, the Amendment Act:

  • Reverses the existing onus in certain circumstances so that a young person charged with a prescribed indictable offence while on bail may be required to show cause as to why they should get bail
  • Allows police and courts making a bail decision to consider an ‘indication of willingness’ by a parent, guardian or other person to provide support to a young person to ensure they comply with bail conditions and advice relevant authorities on any breach of bail conditions
  • Allows courts to mandate GPS electronic monitoring of young people aged 16 and over as a condition of bail
  • Allows police officers to use hand-held scanners without a warrant

To support the new legislation, the Queensland Government are committed to investing $98.4 million for the purpose of:[8]

  • Trialling GPS monitoring devices
  • Expanding joint police and youth justice co-responder strike teams
  • Enhanced intensive supervision of young people on bail
  • Intensive support for families and children on bail, supplied by non-government organisations
  • Additional court and legal advocacy services

 Although these reforms were said to be in line with the Queensland Government’s Youth Justice Strategy 2019-2023, the Queensland Law Society (QLS) and Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) made submissions as part of the consultation process criticising the amendments.[9] They argued that the reforms were a ‘knee-jerk’ response to recent tragic events in Queensland,[10] and that they were not appropriately adapted to the aim of reducing youth offending.[11] The laws were criticised as disproportionately impacting at risk young people and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, without addressing the drivers of youth crime.[12] Early intervention and diversion were emphasised by the QLS and HRLC as appropriate responses to any real or perceived youth crime crisis.[13]


Existing youth justice principles – the importance of diversion and rehabilitation

Relevantly, the Charter of Youth Justice Principles contained in the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) (Youth Justice Act) discusses the importance of diversion and rehabilitation of children in a fair, respectful and appropriate manner.[14] Furthermore, there are a number of important principles. For example:

  • Principle 5 states that children should be diverted from the courts’ criminal justice system where possible.
  • Principle 9 states that children who commit an offence should be held accountable and encouraged to accept responsibility, but be given the opportunity to develop in responsible, beneficial and socially acceptable ways. Their need for guidance and assistance must also be recognised.
  • Principle 17 requires a child to be dealt with in a way that allows them to be reintegrated into the community and to continue their education, training or employment without interruption or disturbance, where possible.

These principles highlight that rehabilitation and preventing the institutionalisation of children in the criminal justice system is central to the Youth Justice Act. Sadly, the focus on rehabilitation is often lost in the political debate around youth justice. However, it is reassuring that in line with the Youth Justice Act, one of the four pillars of the Queensland Government’s Youth Justice Strategy 2019-2023 is to keep children out of court.[15] One aspect of this policy position is the usage of restorative justice conferencing instead of court proceedings in dealing with children who have committed crimes.

The role of a defence lawyer is critical for young people caught up in a criminal proceeding. A detailed knowledge of the different sentencing considerations for children and for restorative justice options is vital. This ensures that the child involved has the best chance to rehabilitate. The often overlooked reality is that this is actually what best protects the community from re-offending.





[1] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Youth detention population in Australia 2020 (Report, 26 February 2021) 6 <> (‘AIHW Report’).

[2] Ibid 7.

[3] Queensland Treasury, Youth Offending (Research Brief, April 2021) 6 <>.

[4] AIHW Report (n 1) 24.

[5] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Youth Justice (Snapshot, 28 May 2021) <>,

[6] Ibid 10.

[7] Queensland, Hansard (Record of Proceedings), Legislative Assembly, 25 February 2021, 237-240 (Mark Ryan, Minister for Police and Corrective Services and Minister for Fire and Emergency Services); Explanatory Notes, Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (Qld) 1.

[8] Rachael Knowles, ‘Queensland tightens youth justice laws’, National Indigenous Times (online, 27 April 2021) <>.

[9] Human Rights Law Centre, Submission No 44 to Legal Affairs and Safety Committee, Parliament of Queensland, Inquiry into Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (March 2021) (‘HRLC Submission’); Queensland Law Society, Submission No 75 to Legal Affairs and Safety Committee, Parliament of Queensland, Inquiry into Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2021 (19 March 2021) (‘QLS Submission’).

[10] HRLC Submission (n 9) 4.

[11] QLS Submission (n 9) 1.

[12] Ibid 1-2; HRLC Submission (n 9) 5.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Accessible at

[15] Accessible at