In Queensland, youth was traditionally defined as any individual under the age of 17. Due to increasing concern from the community, this law was amended to include 17-year-olds as juveniles. The decision to change the upper age limit for youth in Queensland from 16 to 17 was a positive shift in Queensland’s approach to youth offending. This is true for a number of reasons that will be explored. This point shall be proven by defining youth, explaining the change in law and evaluating and justifying why it was such a positive shift.
To further understand the topic at hand, youth has been defined as well as the categories of criminal responsibility. The Acts Interpretation Act 1954 sch1 s36 defines youth as an individual who is under 18. There are three categories of criminal responsibility in Queensland. The Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) s29 ss1-2 states these three categories of criminal responsibility. The first being those who are under the age of 10. The act states that “a person under the age of 10 years is not criminally responsible for any act or omission.
” This is because of the Doli incapax doctrine that proclaims that those who are less than 10 years old are “incapable of crime” (The age of criminal responsibility, 2005). The second category of criminal responsibility declared by the Criminal Code Act 1899 (Qld) s29 ss2 is a person who is under the age of 14 years. The act states that those who are under the age of 14 are not criminally responsible for an act or omission unless it is proven that the person had the capacity to know that the person ought not to do the act or make the omission.
The third and final category of criminal responsibility is those who are of the ages 14-17. At this age minors are expected to know right from wrong. Unlike those who are 10-13, the prosecution does not have to prove this. Offenders of this age are to be dealt with according to the juvenile justice system (Legal Aid Queensland, 2019).
Youth laws have been amended over time to create a fair legal system for minors. In 1992, the Youth Justice Act was introduced to Queensland. Prior to the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016, youth was defined by the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) sch4 as “a person who has not turned 17 years.” Subsequent to the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016, the legal definition of youth changed to: an individual who is under the age of 18 years. This means that those who are 17 are now held to the precedents of the youth justice system. Although the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act was passed by parliament in late 2016, the amendment was commenced two years later, on the 12th of February 2018 (Youth Advocacy Centre, 2018). The change in law brought Queensland into line with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the laws in every state of Australia (Queensland Government, 2019). The Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 brought on another change in the law regarding youth; a transitional regulation. The Youth Justice (Transitional) Amendment Regulation 2018 ensured that 17-year-olds that were involved in the adult justice system were to be carefully transitioned to the Youth Justice system (Queensland Courts, 2018). The regulation commenced immediately after the commencement of the Youth Justice and Other Legislation (Inclusion of 17-year-old Persons) Amendment Act 2016 s5.
There are four key stakeholders that are impacted by the amendment to the youth justice act (Qld) 1992. The stakeholders are 17-year-olds, 17-year-old offenders, the government and the community. 17-year-olds in general have one of the greatest impacts because they are now dealt with under the youth justice system which is heavily focused on rehabilitation and denunciation rather than punishment. This also aligns Queensland with every other Australian state, so the system is fair and equal for 17-year-olds all over Australia. 17-year-old offenders also faced impacts. Young offenders on community-based orders were transferred to Youth Justice supervision and those in adult custody were eligible for transfer to a youth detention centre if it was in the child’s best interest and safety (Transitional Regulation, 2018). This is a positive shift because 17-year-old offenders were no longer being traumatised by the negative physical effects caused by being housed in an adult correctional facility. A report was released in 2017 detailing the story of a 17-year-old (unnamed) that was subject to assaults, sexual assaults and was a witness to regular beatings. He stated; “I recall an officer telling me, ‘The difference between here and juvi [Juvenile Detention Centre] is that I can lay a finger on you here whereas there, I can’t’.” The 17-year-old minor also reported that one guard allegedly told the 17-year-olds, “If you f*** up I will personally take you to your shower recess, where there are no cameras and give you what I call my personal counselling session” (Leonie Mellor, 2017).
Due to the amendment in law, 17-year-olds will be less likely to experience such a human rights violation as this. The government is affected as it must fund the changes. A report from 2013 analysed the cost of housing a person in a juvenile facility as well as the costs of housing a person in an adult facility. The report disclosed that the total cost per prisoner per day of an adult in an adult facility was $305 whereas the cost to house a juvenile in a youth detention centre was $652; that’s an added $347 (The economic and social costs of imprisonment, 2013). The Palaszczuk Government also committed just over $200 million along a span of four years to implement the reform (The Queensland Cabinet and Ministerial Directory, 2018). So, if more juveniles are sent to youth detention centres where it’s double the cost to house them, the government must pay more. (The economic and social costs of imprisonment, 2013). Another predominant stakeholder is the community. Because of the change in law, 17-year-old offenders may abuse the new system and use it to get shorter, less harsh sentences. This may lead to higher levels of delinquency throughout Queensland. And in some extreme cases such as murder, adult offenders generally receive the harshest sentence of life in prison whereas young offenders can expect lighter sentences between 8 years and life (Summary of Offences, 2017) for the same offence. Overall, there are many stakeholders, some were negatively affected, and others were positively affected.
Although some stakeholders were negatively affected by the amendment to the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld), the positive impacts greatly outweigh the negative impacts. 17-year-olds face a positive impact as they are finally being held to the same standards as other 17-year-olds across the country. Offenders are positively impacted as they will no longer be subject to assaults and sexual assaults from hardened adult criminals. The offenders can focus on rehabilitation through Queensland detention centre programs like the behavioural program, social program, cultural program, and education programs. It is mandatory for a child to participate in an education and training program five days a week for forty weeks of the year (Educating young people in detention, n.d.). This allows the young offenders to have the best opportunity to live a crime-free life upon release. The government loses a considerable amount of money but from a moral standpoint, the safety of youth in Queensland is worth more than money. The Queensland Premier even stated that it is “irrational and unfair” and how “It is the right thing to do” (SBS News, 2016). Although the community may be negatively affected by a possible rise in juvenile delinquency, there are more ways to denounce crimes. Focusing more heavily on training and education as well as proving support and guidance to youths may decrease criminal offence (Reducing Youth Crime 2019). Despite the negative impacts, the decision to change the law was still a positive.
In summation, the amendment to the Youth Justice Act 1992 (Qld) to include 17-year-olds in the youth justice system was positive and should continue to stay the same. As stated previously, the amendment brings Queensland in line with the youth justice laws for all other states. It also prevents 17-year-olds from being surrounded by dangerous criminals in adult facilities. 17-year-olds are treated as children in every other aspect of the law, they cannot vote, buy alcohol or buy cigarettes, so they should continue to be defined as youths in the Youth Justice Act.
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