Youth justice systems, policies and programs

Criminal responsibility commences at the age of 10. In Queensland, young people are dealt with as youths for offences committed when they are aged 10-16.

Key policy directions

Whole of Government Youth Justice Policy

The Queensland Government is developing a comprehensive Youth Justice Policy to guide coordinated intensive interventions to address the underlying and complex risks that contribute to a young person's offending. The policy outlines early intervention, rehabilitation, demand management strategies and future infrastructure requirements.

This comprehensive policy will guide reform to reduce:

  • offending especially in areas experiencing higher levels of youth offending;
  • over representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth;
  • high levels of remand and recidivism; and
  • pressures on the youth justice system, most significantly on detention centres with current episodes of detention centres exceeding safe capacity with modelling showing that without this whole of government intervention new facilities will be required.

The policy will aim to achieve identified changes through increased participation in education, training, skills and employment, health and mental health support, family support and evidence based therapeutic interventions that reduce offending. These are the areas that represent more evidence based and valuable areas for government intervention than through increased investment in detention.

Coordinated responses from government, non-government organisations and the community are key to support young people's rehabilitation and transition out of the justice system and into the community.

In conjunction with the policy, Youth Justice is currently implementing additional responses to the increasing complexities and needs of young people in the youth justice system. This is being accomplished through amendments to the Youth Justice Act 1992 Queensland and the introduction of a Trauma Informed Care practice framework and an Integrated Case Management program.

Trauma-Informed Practice

Trauma-Informed Practice (TIP) is a philosophy and a way of working with young people, their families and supports, which Queensland will be introducing into all aspects of Youth Justice, including our practice, our policies and procedures and especially in the way we relate to young people.

TIP is a strengths-based framework grounded in an understanding of and responsiveness to the impact of trauma, that emphasises physical, psychological, and emotional safety for both providers and survivors, and that creates opportunities for survivors to rebuild a sense of control and empowerment (ASCA, 2012).

The trauma-informed approach adopted by Queensland will involve:

  • Improving worker knowledge and skills to enable them to work more effectively with young people regarding the function and triggers for their behaviour, and trauma impacts.
  • Providing young people with more appropriate and adaptive ways of responding when they experience a behavioural trigger, which can be replicated in multiple situations.
  • Extending an organisational culture that acknowledges the trauma young people have experienced, holds them accountable for their actions through appropriate consequences and works towards rehabilitating young people so they can live crime-free lives.
  • Acknowledging historical trauma for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and promoting culturally-appropriate healing strategies.

Integrated case management

Due to the complex needs of children and young people in the youth justice system, most require multiple service system responses including health, education, housing, child safety and disability. An integrated system response is critical to supporting children and young people, and their families to meet their potential and to manage and overcome disadvantage. Youth Justice has implemented an integrated case management program for high risk children and young people that aims to increase coordination and provide intensive intervention to both young people and their families.

First Nations Action Board

The Queensland Government Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Capability Framework underpins all Queensland Government actions and aims to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Queenslanders enjoy the same opportunities as non-Indigenous Queenslanders.

In line with this, a First Nations Action Board has been established to provide cultural advice and influence all aspects of youth justice service delivery including strategy, policy, practices, projects and programs. The Board will ensure that priority projects are developed and implemented in a culturally appropriate way to deliver positive outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, their families and communities.

Program Improvement

Queensland is making improvements to the quality of Youth Justice programs by evaluating their effectiveness using SPEP (the Standardised Program Evaluation Protocol). The SPEP tool assesses how programs align with evidence and predicts how effectively a program will reduce recidivism.

Research [1] has identified three major factors as correlates of effective programs. These include: target moderate to high-risk young people, use programs that are based on a therapeutic approach and implement programs well.

Key agencies

Youth justice agency

The Department of Justice and Attorney-General (DJAG) has lead government responsibility for providing legislated, tertiary, offence focused interventions and supervision to young people subject to a community-based or detention order by the court.

DJAG also has a key role in ensuring assessed needs of children and young people are responded to through the provision or related Government, non-government and community interventions and supports.


Police are the first point of contact for young people entering the criminal justice system. In Queensland, police can opt to either divert young people by way of a warning, caution, youth justice conference, a diversionary graffiti removal program or a drug diversion assessment program, or refer them directly to the courts.


In Queensland, young people who are alleged to have committed an offence and who are not diverted are dealt with by the Children's Courts, District Courts or the Supreme Court under the provision of the Youth Justice Act 1992.

Key elements, programs and services


If a young person admits guilt to the police and consents to being cautioned, the police may caution the young person and give them a notice of caution.

If the offence is a minor drug offence, the police may offer the young person an opportunity to attend a drug diversion assessment program. This consists of an education program arranged by Queensland Health.

Youth justice conferencing is used to increase responsibility and accountability of the young person who has committed an offence. This restorative justice program provides young people the opportunity to understand the impact of their actions on the victim and the community and repair the harm between the victim and young person. The model is an alternative to court that provides a dedicated approach to service delivery that aims to divert young people from further offending.

Where an admission of guilt is made in relation to a graffiti offence, a police officer may refer a young offender to a graffiti removal program instead of bringing the matter before a court. Graffiti removal programs, arranged by DJAG, hold young offenders accountable by requiring the young offender to perform unpaid work to remove graffiti whilst also providing a direct consequence for their offending. Case management

Young people under the statutory supervision of youth justice service centres and youth detention centres are actively case managed. Collaborative case management panels have been adopted across the state to enable delivery of coordinated interventions and support packages for young people with complex needs and their families. Case management and interventions are informed by a comprehensive risk/needs assessment tool and case-planning process which includes the engagement of the young person, their family, other government departments and community stakeholders. Young people are monitored and case plans are reviewed on a regular basis to ensure that interventions are tailored to the young people's changing rehabilitative and support needs.

Offence-specific and therapeutic programs

The Aggression Replacement Training (ART) program targets medium-to-high-risk young people who exhibit aggressive and violent behaviour, and aims to reduce their risk of committing violent offences by teaching them social skills, anger management techniques and moral reasoning.

The Changing Habits and Reaching Targets (CHART) program is a structured individual intervention program for young people at moderate to high-level risk of re-offending. The CHART program is also delivered to meet the cultural needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people.

The Mater Family and Youth Counselling Service provides preparatory support and therapeutic interventions for young people, families and victims who are referred to a youth justice conference in relation to offences of a sexual nature.

The Griffith Youth Forensic Service is a funded service that works with departmental caseworkers to provide specialised assessment and treatment programs for young sexual offenders; pre-sentence reports to facilitate court decisions; and treatment planning, consultancy and training services.

Youth Boot Camps

Following an evaluation of the outcomes of the Youth Boot Camp trial, the program finished in September/October 2015.  All young people that remained engaged with the youth boot camp providers were transitioned to intervention services run by Youth Justice, to support the young people to finish their components of the program.

Transition to Success (T2S)

Transition 2 Success (T2S) is an alternative education and vocational training program delivered in a community setting.  The program is made possible by partnerships at a local level between the Youth Justice Service Centre, local secondary schools, registered training organisations, not-for-profits and local businesses. 

The purpose of T2S is to reduce risk factors associated with disengagement from education, training and employment; contact with the justice system and/or continued offending due to a lack of pro-social opportunities. 

The program delivers three primary service types - Job-related training, Social skills training and Behaviour Management - aimed at developing skills that will help a young person self-regulate his/her behaviour and/or enhance their ability to participate in normative, pro-social activity such as employment.

The program is being expanded to additional sites across Queensland in 2016 following a successful evaluation.

Programs for Indigenous young people

Indigenous Service Support Officers (ISSOs) are located in areas where there are a high proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people under supervision. ISSOs contribute to case planning and consult with families, elders, other key community members, community agencies and government departments to ensure Indigenous young people are effectively supported.

Indigenous Conferencing Support Officers (ICSOs) provide culturally responsive and appropriate youth justice conferencing services to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people, victims, families and communities.

Supported accommodation and bail programs

The Supervised Community Accommodation (SCA) service provides 24-hour, seven-days-per-week supervised accommodation for up to four young men who are leaving detention or within ten weeks of leaving detention that are homeless or at risk of homelessness. Young people who have engaged with this program have been shown to have a reduced risk of re-offending and increased ability to function independently.

The Conditional Bail Program, supervised by Youth Justice Services, provides the courts with an alternative to remanding young people in custody and targets those at risk of remand in custody by engaging them in activities for the duration of their bail period.

Youth Justice funds four non-government agencies to deliver Bail Support Services in four locations. These services provide tailored support to young people who have been granted bail by the courts and who require additional assistance to meet bail conditions.

Pre- and post-release support

In accordance with their assessed needs, young people in detention are involved in a variety of programs including therapeutic, educational, vocational, behavioural, life skills, cultural and recreational programs. These programs are regularly reviewed to ensure that they continue to meet the needs of the cohort in custody at that time.

Transition officers and case management officers, in partnership with Queensland Health and the Department of Education, Training and Employment support young people exiting detention. As part of the transition planning process, young people are referred to local community services to continue any programs they may have been receiving in detention and to access any necessary therapeutic interventions relevant to each individual young person.

Other programs and services

Young Offender Support Services

Four non-government organisations in Queensland are funded to deliver the Young Offender Support Service (YOSS). Risk factors contributing to offending are identified and dealt with by YOSS workers in partnership with statutory youth justice staff and family members to reduce the likelihood of offending and further contact with the youth justice system.

The program assists young people to develop skills in the areas of obtaining stable accommodation, relationships, health, decision-making, interpersonal skills and goal setting.

Employment Project Officer

Three non-government organisations are funded to deliver five Employment Project Officer (EPO) initiatives. The target audience for the EPO service is young people with a range of complex needs and risk factors, generally long term disengagement from school and a level of instability that means they are neither job ready or able to successfully access employment programs without high levels of support. The EPOs provide specialist job preparation, career planning and employment related activities to young people aged 15 years and over who are clients of Youth Justice Services.

Youth detention centres

Youth detention centres continue to focus on the safety, wellbeing and rehabilitation of young people. The safe and secure management of youth detention facilities remained a key priority for the department in 2014-15, and was enhanced through the following initiatives:

  • ongoing review of detention centre policies and procedures to ensure a contemporary and best practice framework for youth detention service delivery in Queensland,
  • implementing an incident management framework to ensure incidents in youth detention centres are resolved safely using de-escalation techniques and intervention responses proportionate to the level of risk,
  • reviewing best practice with regards to behaviour management in custodial settings. A behaviour management framework based on trauma-informed principles is being developed to better equip staff to respond effectively and consistently to challenging behaviours, as well as acknowledging and encouraging pro-social behaviour among young offenders,
  • expanding and refurbishing the Cleveland Youth Detention Centre in Townsville which increased bed capacity from 72 beds to 96 beds,
  • the inclusion of accommodation for young female offenders in Cleveland Youth Detention Centre, and
  • ensuring Queensland is responsive to demand on youth detention centres in response to increasing youth detention numbers in Queensland.


  1. Lipsey M 2009. The primary factors that characterise effective interventions with juvenile offenders: a meta-analytic overview. Victims and Offenders 4:124-147.