Youth Policy: Brief Analysis

Queensland Juvenile Justice Act (1992) has a controversial approach to age of offenders and the role of caution and sentencing practices for young criminals. Queensland Juvenile Justice Act was approved in 1992. This Act is seen as a “hard” response to high juvenile crime rates (Hil 1998). The main objectives of the Act are to: ‘establish the basis for the administration of juvenile justice; and rehabilitate children who commit offences” (Queensland Juvenile Justice Act 2008). The example of the Act shows that each state has devised a formal, legal definition of delinquency, and considerable variation exists among states about how delinquency is conceptualized. This diversity is evident in gender and age criteria as well as in specific behavior or acts that fall within the delinquency rubric. Social definitions of delinquency depend largely on those who engage in defining the behavior of others. (Consedine, 1993), Obviously, there are both time and place dimensions associated with these highly subjective impressions about who is or is not delinquent. Interpretations made by adults, of deviant conduct observed among youths, are often equated with delinquency.

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The main conception of the youth crime” us based on the idea that crime is a serious offence thus imprisonment should be used as a last resort policy. According to the Act :’” Without limiting section 99, a Childrens Court judge may sentence a child on any charge for a summary offence on which the child consents to being sentenced by the judge under the Criminal Code, section 651” (Queensland Juvenile Justice Act 2008, p. 101-102). If it is true that violent crime among juveniles is committed by a limited number of hard-core offenders, then it would seem a feasible strategy to attempt to isolate these comparatively few offenders and target them for special treatment within the juvenile justice system. From all outward appearances, it would seem that juvenile courts in the past have reflected a tendency to deal directly with chronic and violent offenders, rather than to pass them along through waivers to criminal courts (Bernard 1992).

The main assumptions underpinning the document are human rights policies and a policy of deterrence. Preadjudication detention of juveniles is lawful in all jurisdictions. However, these juveniles transferred to criminal courts are now in the unenviable position of being placed in jails and other detention facilities with adults–where the risk of sexual assault is great and the criminal atmosphere is intense. Changing laws in many jurisdictions mandate automatic transfers of juveniles (Cunneen and White 1995). The criticism of the Act concerns age of juvenile offenders and sentencing. Criminal responsibility in Queensland starts from 10 years old. Thus, a special attention is devoted to community service and sentencing. The detention rate is high.

This document is criticized for its approach to juvenile crimes and inadequate punishment applied as a last resort policy. On the other hand, this document stipulates very strict norms for serious crimes: “Subject to subsections (2) and (3), a court sentencing an offender as an adult under section 140, 141 or 14360 has jurisdiction to sentence the offender in any way that an adult may be sentenced” Juvenile Justice Act 2008, p. s144). The main weakness of this approach is that it does not prevent young people form criminal behavior but implies very serious punishment only for offenders defined as serious and repeat. While offenses may be violent and/or dangerous, they must also be evaluated according to their seriousness. While all violent crimes are serious crimes, it does not follow that all serious crimes are violent ones (Hil, 1996). Thus, offense seriousness may be measured not only by victim injuries and physical harm, but also in psychological and monetary terms. Juvenile drug dealers may not be violent offenders, yet their behavior is definitely serious. It is serious because of the potential harm it may inflict upon others, financially, physically, and psychologically. Juvenile judges and prosecutors must address each of these offense dimensions equally when making waiver decisions. So, the Act does not prevent youth from minor crimes and offences. The strengths of the Act are that it reduces number of prisoners and educes a burden on tax payers (Fleming 1992).

The main problem with Queensland Juvenile Justice Act is that it is oriented on deterrence and rehabilitation but pays less attention to punishment and sentencing. Thus, it is a disputable question: many critics (Krisberg and Austin 1993) admit that incarceration is not the best approach to crime prevention while suppose that it is the only possible way to reduce crimes among young children. A greater range of rights is being extended to juveniles in juvenile courts. At the same time, punishment and treatment of especially chronic and severe delinquents has shifted more toward adult court processing, through transfers or waivers. Status offenders have been filtered out of many juvenile justice systems toward various community social services. These shifts are consistent with the “just deserts” philosophy that currently dominates many juvenile justice proceedings (Howell, 1997). As greater numbers of youthful offenders are waived to criminal court jurisdiction, questions arise about whether transferred juveniles are fully capable of accepting the responsibilities associated with these criminal proceedings. For instance, how likely are youths to fail to attend one or more scheduled appearances that often extend over many months, in criminal courts? Can reliable predictive criteria be established that will enable officials to distinguish those who will appear each time, from those who will not? How will such criteria differ from those typically used by pretrial service agencies in making release recommendations for adults. The Act: “gives considerable weight to the role of parents in relation to their children’s offending. Despite the act’s initial emphasis on families in the rehabilitation’ and reintegration’ of young offenders, the roles of parents and guardians are restricted largely to notification procedures and restitution orders” (Hil 1998, p. 98).

Within the juvenile justice system itself, “get tough” measures include greater use of detention, as well as greater use of waivers to criminal courts. Overcrowding of juvenile correctional facilities is a “given,” but it is a problem that must be reckoned with and resolved. Front-end and back-end solutions include greater use of probation and parole (Hil, 1998). Placing population “caps”, or limits on detention facilities in various states sets into motion several system adjustments and responses that impact in various ways upon the entire juvenile justice system. According to the act, “The purpose of this division is to set up a way of diverting a child who commits an offence from the courts’ criminal justice system by allowing a police officer to administer a caution to the child instead of bringing the child before a court for the offence” (s16). Diverting less serious youths from the juvenile justice system to community-based services, including nonsecure residential programs with electronic monitoring, places a new set of constraints upon affected juveniles. Many community-based programs are unsure of the degree of sanctioning power they possess when youths fail to comply with program requirements or rules. Also, these agencies, facilities, and personnel are unfamiliar with changing laws pertaining to juveniles and the different kinds of liabilities they incur as community interventions (Gale et al 1993).

The alternative policy for the Act is to introduce stricter laws for the first time offenders but simplify laws for serious juvenile offenders. Some views combine punishment with pragmatism: where punishments may be imposed together with treatment, education, and rehabilitation, after justice has been served. Currently, there are variable dispositional options available to juvenile judges in most jurisdictions. These options include unofficial probation, referral to specific community agencies, warnings and case dismissals, waivers, detention hearings, and conditional punishments, such as community service and restitution. Juvenile correctional facilities must give greater attention to educational and vocational programs (Krisberg and Austin 1993). The average length of detention in secure juvenile facilities is considerably shorter than the length of incarceration in adult correctional facilities. Thus, intervention programs, especially educational and vocational programs, must be modified and streamlined to equip affected youths with various skills and competencies that will enable them to be more productive members of their communities, when released.

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In sum, Queensland Juvenile Justice Act (1992) established strict laws and principles for serious and repeat offenders but introduced mild laws for the first time juvenile offenders. Critics (Krisberg and Austin 1993) admit that it is crucial to reform this Act in order to prevent increased juvenile delinquency rates and crimes committed by young offenders in Queensland. The rehabilitative, treatment-centered philosophy that has dominated the criminal justice system for the first half of the twentieth century has gradually given way to the “just deserts,” or justice philosophy. The justice philosophy is associated with harsher punishments, and administering penalties for offenders according to the seriousness of their crimes.

Bibliography

Bernard, Thomas J. 1992. The Cycle of Juvenile Justice. New York: Oxford University Press.

Consedine, M. 1993, Restorative Justice: Healing the Effects of Crime, Christchurch.

Cunneen, C. and R White, 1995, Juvenile Justice: An Australian Perspective, Melbourne.

Fleming, R.B., Nardulli, P.F., and Eisenstein, J. 1992. The craft of justice. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Gale, F., Naffine, N. and J Wundersitz (eds) 1993, Juvenile Justice: Debating the Issues, Sydney.

Hil, R. 1996, Making Them Pay: A Critical Review of Parental Restitution in Australian Juvenile Justice Townsville.

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Hil, R. 1998, The Call to Order: Families, Responsibility and Juvenile Crime Control. Journal of Australian Studies, 3 (1), 98.

Howell, J.C. 1997. Juvenile justice and youth violence. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Juvenile Justice Act 1992. Web.

Krisberg, B., and Austin, J.F. 1993. Reinventing juvenile justice. Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

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