Youth detention data
This report looks at the number of young people in detention on an average night in each quarter over the 4-year period from the June quarter 2018 to the June quarter 2022. Each quarter covers 3 months of the year and is identified with reference to the last month in the quarter (for example, the March quarter comprises January, February, and March).
The states and territories provided data on the average nightly number of young people in detention each quarter between July 2021 and June 2022. These data supplement the Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set (YJ NMDS). For more information, see ‘Technical Notes’.
In the Northern Territory, new legislation was implemented to the youth justice system on 15 May 2021—the Youth Justice Legislation Amendment Act (YJLAA) 2021 (the Act). The intent of the Act was to target repeat youth offenders to reduce youth crime. The Act resulted in some key changes to processes of the youth justice system. This change in legislation may have impacted on the number and rate of young people in detention in the Northern Territory.
Impact of COVID-19 on youth detention data
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. A ‘third wave’ of social restrictions were introduced in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory from June 2021 and started to progressively ease from October 2021. Since then, additional waves of COVID-19 have affected all jurisdictions with small restrictions in place during that time.
While youth justice centres and other places of custody, courts or tribunals were considered essential services (Prime Minister of Australia 2020), COVID-19 still has had a substantial impact on the operations of these services and restrictions 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 report includes data from the period in which COVID-19 was present in Australia, from the March quarter 2020 to the June quarter 2022. Nationally, over the 4-year period, the numbers of young people in detention on an average night were lowest in the June and September quarters 2020. However, the direct impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on the number of young people in detention 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 in detention on an average night.
More research is required in order to better understand the impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on youth detention across Australia.
Trends in the detention population
The number of young people in detention on an average night is relatively small, and the amount of random variation from quarter to quarter is more noticeable when numbers are small. This might affect the appearance and interpretation of trends, and these should be interpreted with caution (particularly where they relate to small populations).
In this report, comparisons are made between the June quarter 2022 and the June quarter 1 year earlier (2021) and 4 years earlier (2018). The same quarters are compared across years to minimise the effect of seasonal variation.
Previous analyses have indicated that there appears to be some seasonal variation in the numbers of young people in sentenced and unsentenced detention each year (AIHW 2022), which is yet to be fully investigated or explained.
This report aims to summarise key trends over the 1-year and 4-year periods.
For more data, including counts of young people who enter the youth justice system throughout the year, and trends over 10 years to 2020–21, see Youth Justice in Australia 2020–21 at Youth justice in Australia 2020–21, Summary—Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.