Australian Institute of Criminology

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Juveniles' contact with the criminal justice system

Media Release

28 September 2009

The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) has released the first collection of data on juveniles' contact with the criminal justice system as both offenders and victims.

Juveniles' contact with the criminal justice system in Australia presents the most recently available data from every Australian jurisdiction except Tasmania on juveniles' contact with police, courts and correctional systems.

AIC Director, Dr Adam Tomison, said the report identifies what we know and don't know about juveniles' contact with the criminal justice system.

"Australia's juvenile justice policies have focussed on treating juveniles differently from adults and using custody as a last resort for many years and our report shows that juveniles make up a minority of those who come into contact with the different stages of the criminal justice system," Dr Tomison said.

"Most juveniles who were victims, were victims of offences against the person, assault being the most common, followed by sexual offences. Similar to adults, male children are more likely to be victims of physical assault, while females are more likely to be victims of sexual assault."

The majority of alleged offenders, however, came into contact with police for property crimes rather than those against the person.

Depending upon the jurisdiction, anywhere between one in 10 to one in four persons with whom police have contact as alleged offenders are aged between 10 and 17. About one-fifth of alleged juvenile offenders are girls, with the majority being boys aged between 15 and 17.

Although there has been a decline in the number of cases being heard in children's courts during the past decade and police dealt with most alleged juvenile offenders via diversionary measures such as cautions and conferences, criminal matters in children's courts comprised seven percent of all criminal court matters in 2006-07.

The rate of juveniles in detention has declined over the past 25 years, but has stabilised in recent years with an average daily number of just under 800 juveniles in custody - a small number compared with the 20,000 adults serving terms of imprisonment.

"The report once again demonstrates that Indigenous juveniles continued to be over-represented in almost every area - contact with police, in children's courts and in detention - as both victims and offenders," Dr Tomison said

"Indigenous children were five times as likely as non-Indigenous children to be the subjects of child protection substantiations for physical or emotional abuse and neglect, and made up 53% of all juveniles in detention on an average day.

"Information gaps and variations in data collection and demographic and legislative differences among the states and territories make direct comparisons difficult and our intention is to highlight trends and patterns over time.

For more information or to view the report visit www.aic.gov.au/publications/current series/mr/1-20/07.aspx

"The report will form the basis of ongoing trend monitoring by the Institute to inform the future research agenda in the field of juvenile justice," Dr Tomison added.

AIC media contact: Scott Kelleher. Telephone: 02 6260 9244; Mobile: 0418 159 525.