Sentencing young adults


The present positions of the Queensland Government and Opposition regarding youth justice, as a matter of policy, are extremely concerning.


They also stand in contrast to the principles of sentencing of young adults, to whom a sentence of imprisonment remains a last resort. In the case of R v Hamstra [2020] QCA 185, Sofronoff P (with Fraser JA and McMurdo JA agreeing) discuss the purposes of sentencing and the importance of considering the useful purpose to be served by sentencing a youthful offender to a period of imprisonment.


His Honour poses three important questions earlier in the judgment:


‘1. Does general deterrence require the defendant to be imprisoned?

  1. Does the need to satisfy the community’s justifiable sense of outrage require for its vindication the actual incarceration of a young person?
  2. Does the need for personal deterrence require that the applicant serve a period of actual imprisonment?’


In many cases dealt with by the courts, as in this case, the answer to all three questions will be ‘No’.


What this judgment does not discuss, as it did not arise in the circumstances, is the rehabilitative purpose of sentencing, especially crucial in dealing with young adults. A fourth question that should be asked is:


Will the actual incarceration of a young person disrupt their rehabilitation and instead expose them to and/or entrench  further criminogenic behaviour?