People who commit or allegedly commit a crime when aged 10–17 may be dealt with under the youth justice system. Each state and territory in Australia has its own youth justice legislation, policies and practices but the general processes by which young people are charged, and the types of legal orders available to the courts, are similar.

Some people aged 18 and over may also be supervised in the youth justice system. Depending on the jurisdiction, this may be because they were apprehended for a crime that was (allegedly) committed when they were 17 or younger, their existing supervision continues once they turn 18 (instead of being transferred to the adult correctional system), or a court determines that they should be detained in a youth justice facility due to their vulnerability or immaturity.

Young people may be supervised when they are unsentenced – that is, when they are awaiting the outcome of their court matter or sentencing – or they may be sentenced to supervision after being proven guilty in court. Both unsentenced and sentenced supervision can take place in the community or in a detention facility (see glossary for definitions).

Data on this page are taken from the AIHW’s Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set and includes information about young people in Australia who were under youth justice supervision during 2020–21 and recent trends (AIHW 2022). Numbers include young people of all ages (including those aged 18 and over) unless otherwise specified. Population rates are only calculated for people aged 10–17.

Impact of COVID-19 on youth justice data (2020 and 2021)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘first wave’ of social restrictions were introduced in Australia in mid-March 2020. These restrictions were progressively eased in most states/territories from May 2020. A ‘second wave’ of social restrictions were introduced in Victoria from July 2020 and started to progressively ease from September 2020. Other small, intermittent restrictions were introduced in other jurisdictions during the 2020–21 period.

While, as outlined in the Prime Minister’s media announcement on 18 March 2020, youth justice centres and other places of custody, courts or tribunals were considered essential services (Morrison 2020), COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on their operations, and restrictions they face may have continued beyond the easing of restrictions in the general community. The impact may differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction (Judicial College of Victoria 2020).

  • In New South Wales, for example, Children’s Court hearings were vacated from 24 March to 1 May 2020 with few exceptions. This led to a decrease in the number of court finalisations between March and June 2020, which resulted in a reduction in young people in sentenced detention.
  • During this period, there was also a decline in unsentenced detention as more young people were discharged to bail and fewer young people had their bail revoked when breaching bail conditions (Chan 2021).

This page includes data from March 2020 to June 2021, which coincides with the presence of COVID-19 in Australia. However, the direct impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on the number of young people in youth justice supervision is difficult to determine due to a range of factors including:

  • variability of the data
  • variations in state-based legislation, policy and practice
  • small numbers of young people under supervision.

More research is required in order to better understand the impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on youth justice supervision across Australia.

How many people are under youth justice supervision?

On an average day in 2020–21, 4,695 people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. Among those aged 10–17, this was a rate of 14 per 10,000. A total of 9,352 young people were supervised by youth justice at some time during the year (from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021).

More than 4 in 5 (84%) young people under supervision on an average day in 2020–21 were supervised in the community, and 17% were in detention (some were supervised in the community and detention on the same day).

Most (84%) young people under community-based supervision on an average day were serving a sentence, while almost 3 in 4 (72%) of those in detention were unsentenced.

Variation in rates of supervision

For young people aged 10–17 on an average day of youth justice supervision in 2020–21:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were about 16 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be under supervision – almost 16 times as likely to be under community-based supervision, and about 18 times as likely to be in detention (see Indigenous community safety).
  • Males were almost 4 times as likely as females to be under supervision.
  • Young people from Very remote areas were 6 times as likely as those from Major cities to be under supervision.
  • Young people from the lowest socioeconomic areas were almost 5 times as likely as those from the highest socioeconomic areas to be under supervision.

Among the states and territories, rates of supervision for young people aged 10–17 years ranged from 7.3 per 10,000 on an average day in Victoria to 32 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory (Figure 1).

 

This vertical bar chart shows that the rate of supervision among people aged 10–17 varied among the states and territories, ranging from 7.3 per 10,000 in Victoria to 32 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory. Rates of community-based supervision followed a similar pattern to all supervision, and ranged from 5.7 per 10,000 in Victoria to 20 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory. Rates of detention ranged from 1.5 per 10,000 in South Australia and Tasmania to 12 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory.

Time under supervision

Individual periods of supervision completed during 2020–21 lasted for a median of 124 days (about 4 months). Completed periods of community-based supervision were much longer than completed periods of detention, with a median duration of 100 days (about 14 weeks) compared with 6 days. The median duration of completed periods of sentenced detention was longer than unsentenced detention (72 days compared with 6 days).

When the total time spent under supervision during 2020–21 is considered (including multiple periods and those not yet completed), young people supervised during the year spent an average of 183 days or about 6 months under supervision.

Trends

Over the 5 years from 2016–17 to 2020–21, the number of people aged 10 and over who were under supervision on an average day fell by 12% (5,329 to 4,695), however the number fluctuated throughout this period, with a high of 5,675 in 2018–19. The rate for people aged 10–17 dropped from 19 to 14 per 10,000 (Figure 2).

In community-based supervision, the number of young people on an average day fell by 12% (4,447 to 3,934) over the 5-year period. The rate dropped from 16 to 11 per 10,000 for those aged 10–17.

In detention, the number on an average day fell by 13% (910 to 787) over the same period. The rate fell from 3.2 to 2.6 per 10,000 for those aged 10–17 between 2016–17 and 2020–21.

 

This line graph shows that the rate of community-based supervision remained much higher than detention over the 5 years to 2020–21. Overall, supervision has been trending slightly downward (from 19 to 14 per 10,000), in parallel with community-based supervision (which fell from 16 to 11 per 10,000), while detention rates declined slightly from 3.2 to 2.6 per 10,000.

Interaction with other services

Many vulnerable young people under youth justice supervision are also involved with other services. Data are available on young people’s involvement with: youth justice and alcohol and other drug treatment services; and youth justice and child protection.

Alcohol and other drug treatment

People aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision at any time between June 2012 and July 2016 were 30 times as likely as the general population to have received alcohol and other drug treatment services during that period (33% compared with just over 1%) (AIHW 2018).

Child protection

More than half of young people (or 1 in 2) aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision, during 2018–19, had received a child protection service in the 5 years from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019. The general population was far less likely to be involved in child protection. In 2018–19, 1 in 33 children aged 0–17 received child protection services (AIHW 2020).

Where do I go for more information?

See Youth justice for more on this topic.

For more information on youth justice, see:

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) (2018) Overlap between youth justice supervision and alcohol and other drug treatment services: 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016, catalogue number JUV 126, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 2 March 2022.

AIHW (2020) Young people under youth justice supervision and in child protection 2018–19, Data linkage series no. 26, catalogue number CSI 28, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 2 March 2022.

AIHW (2021) Youth justice in Australia 2020–21, catalogue number JUV 138, AIHW, Australian Government, accessed 31 March 2022.

Chan N (2021) The impact of COVID-19 on young people in the criminal justice system, Bureau brief number BB151, NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, accessed 2 March 2022.

Judicial College of Victoria (2020) Coronavirus and the courts, Judicial College of Victoria, accessed 6 October 2020.

Morrison, the Hon. S (18 March 2020) Update on coronavirus measures, [media release by the Prime Minister], Canberra, accessed 6 October 2020.