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This article was written by Sally Crosswell

Sally Crosswell has a Bachelor of Laws (Hons), a Bachelor of Communication and a Master of International and Community Development. She also completed a Graduate Diploma of Legal Practice at the College of Law. A former journalist, Sally has a keen interest in human rights law.

Youth Justice Act


The Youth Justice Act 1992 sets out how children are to be dealt with by the legal system in Queensland. It is the state’s code for sentencing children for criminal offences, and aims to recognise the importance of families and communities in the rehabilitation of young offenders.

Youth justice principles

The Act contains a charter of principles which underpin its operations. These principles include that:

  • the community should be protected from crime;
  • the youth justice system should uphold children’s rights, keep them safe and promote their physical and mental wellbeing;
  • a youth should be treated with respect and dignity and treat others the same;
  • a youth should be given special protection due to their vulnerability in dealing with authority;
  • diversion from the criminal justice system is a priority;
  • explanations should be provided in a way a youth understands;
  • proceedings should be conducted in a fair, just and timely way and as quickly as practicable, with opportunities for the youth to participate;
  • youth in custody should be given priority;
  • victims should be allowed to participate;
  • parents should be encouraged to fulfil their responsibilities of care and supervision;
  • community participation should be a priority when dealing with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth;
  • programs and services for youth should be culturally appropriate, promote health and self-respect, foster a sense of responsibility, and encourage attitudes and skills to help the youth fulfil their potential in society;
  • action should promote the youth’s reintegration into the community; education, training or employment; and ability to live at home;
  • custody should be a last resort and as brief as possible;
  • a youth in detention should be:
    • provided with a safe and stable environment;
    • helped to maintain relationships with family and community;
    • allowed to participate in decisions about detention programs, contact with family, health and schooling;
    • given privacy;
    • given access to dental, medical and therapeutic services;
    • given access to education;
    • given help to transition from detention.

Sentencing options

The Act provides for a range of orders for a court to impose when sentencing a juvenile offender.

Restorative Justice Order

This order is designed to allow the offender to consider the effects of their offending on others, by being accountable, challenging their beliefs about the offence, and make meaningful reparation, as well as help victims express their views and gain closure.

Probation Order

This order has the offender take part in intervention programs, such as anger management or drug and alcohol treatment, to address their behaviour while continuing with family and community life. The offender is under supervision and faces consequences for non-compliance with order conditions.

Community Service Order

This order allows for an offender who is aged at least 13 to be sentenced to a minimum of 20 hours unpaid community service. Its purpose is to provide a clear consequence for offending and to make meaningful reparation to the community. The type of community service depends on factors such as the nature and seriousness of the offence, and the offender’s age, cultural background, skills and interests.

Graffiti Removal Order

This order can be considered a community service order specific to a graffiti offence. A person who is aged at least 12 when they committed a graffiti offence must to be sentenced to perform up to 20 hours of unpaid graffiti removal.

Intensive Supervision Order

This order is designed to address significant and/or repeated offending and establish long-term support to reduce the risk of re-offending. It involves conferencing with significant people in the offender’s life to decide on compulsory activities to achieve these aims.

Conditional Release Order

This order requires the offender to take part in an intensive, highly intrusive, structured program for up to 3 months. It is a suspended sentence order that involves educational, vocational and work activities; reintegration activities and interventions to address offending.

Detention Order

Under this order, the offender is sent to a youth detention centre. They must serve at least 70% of their sentence in the centre, with the other 30% spent in the community on a supervised release order. While in custody, the offender must take part in educational, interventional and other programs.

Combination Order

A court has the power to make more than one order for one offence, such as a combination of probation and community service.

Act changes

In April 2021, the Queensland Parliament passed the Youth Justice and Other Legislation Amendment Act 2021 in a bid to deal with recidivist young offenders. The legislation included a trial of GPS monitoring devices, stronger anti-hooning laws, more police powers and a reversal of the presumption of bail for serious offences. Critics argue the changes will further marginalise the most vulnerable in the state and lead those children to criminalisation and re-offending.

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