In all states and territories of Australia, a young person who is found guilty of a criminal offence may be sentenced to a term of detention. Detention is a penalty of last resort and courts should only impose it when no other sentencing option is appropriate. This page deals with the laws surrounding youth detention in different jurisdictions of Australia.
Young people and the courts
The majority of criminal offending by people under18 is dealt with by the Youth Courts and Children’s Courts of the various states and territories. However, serious indictable offences by juveniles are dealt with by the higher courts. A sentence of youth detention may be handed down by a Youth Court or Children’s Court, by a Supreme Court, by a District Court, or by the County Court of Victoria.
In the Youth Courts and Children’s Court there is a maximum term that may be imposed for a single offence. The maximum term that may be imposed in the higher courts is set out in the legislation relating to each individual offence.
In some jurisdictions, courts may order that a young adult serve a custodial sentence in youth detention rather than in adult prison under some circumstances.
Youth detention in Victoria
Victoria has two Youth Justice Precincts, which are run by the Department of Justice.
The Children’s Court has the power to sentence a young person to a term of detention of up to two years for a single offence.
A young person who is sentenced to six months or more in detention in Victoria may apply for parole to the Youth Parole Board of Victoria.
Youth detention in New South Wales
The NSW Children’s Court has the power to sentence a young person to detention for up to two years for a single offence.
A sentence of youth detention in New South Wales may include a non-parole period.
Under section 19 of the Children (Criminal Proceedings) Act 1987, New South Wales courts may order that a person aged between 18 and 21 serve their sentence of imprisonment as a juvenile under some circumstances.
In Queensland, a young person may be sentenced to detention under the Youth Justice Act 1992. Queensland has two youth detention centres, the Brisbane Youth Detention Centre in Wacol and the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville.
Under section 208 of the Youth Justice Act 1992, detention must only be imposed when it is the only appropriate sentence.
In the ACT, a young person who is found guilty of an offence may be sentenced to detention under the Children and Young People Act 2008. The ACT’s youth detention centre is Bimberi Youth Justice Centre.
A young person sentenced to detention may apply to the Supervised Release Review Board for release under a supervised release order when they become eligible. If a young person is sentenced to less than 12 months detention, they must serve at least half of the sentence before they may be released under a supervised release order.
In South Australia, a young person who is found guilty of an offence may be sentenced to detention under section 23 of the Young Offenders Act 1993. The South Australian Youth Court has the power to impose a term of up to three years.
The term may include a non-parole period.
However, detention is not to be imposed unless:
- The young person is a repeat offender or a serious firearm offender; or
- The court is satisfied that a non-custodial sentence would be inadequate because of the seriousness or circumstances of the offence or because it is part of a pattern of offending.
Youth detention in the Northern Territory
The Youth Justice Court may impose a term of detention of up to 12 months for a young person who is under 15 or up to two years for a young person over 15. When the Youth Justice Court imposes a term of detention of more than 12 months that is not partly suspended, it must set a non-parole period.
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