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Sentencing Considerations For Young Offenders (Vic)

Under the Victorian Sentencing Act (1991) a person who is charged with criminal offences is classified as a young offender if they are sentenced when they are younger than 21. However, at common law, there is no particular age when an offender is no longer considered youthful. This means that a person’s youth may be taken into account at sentencing even if they are over 21. Youth is often treated by courts as a mitigating factor at sentencing. However, the mitigating impact of an offender’s youth decreases as they age. While young offenders may be sentenced more leniently than older offenders, other sentencing considerations will sometimes be found to be more important than the youth of an offender.

Why is youth a factor in sentencing?

When courts are dealing with young offenders, particularly where the person has had no prior offences, it is usually appropriate not to impose a term of actual imprisonment, even where the offending is serious.

The courts recognize that young people are immature and may not fully understand the consequences of their offending behaviour. They also recognize that young people have all their lives ahead of them and should generally not have their professional and other prospects ruined by a youthful mistake.

R v Mills

In the 1998 decision of R v Mills, a 20-year-old was convicted of recklessly causing injury and sentenced to imprisonment for 18 months. By the time of sentencing, the defendant was 21. He appealed the sentence and the Court of Appeal found in his favour. The court found that when sentencing a youthful offender, the following considerations should be taken into account:

  • The youth of the offender, particularly if they have no prior record;
  • The greater importance of rehabilitation over general deterrence, as focusing on rehabilitation decreases the person’s chances of re-offending; and
  • That a youthful offender should not be sent to adult prison if this can be avoided as it may lead to further offending.

Since the decision of R v Mills, the considerations it outlined have been followed by the courts and used as a starting point for understanding the sentencing considerations when dealing with youthful offenders.

Rehabilitation and young offenders

The courts have stressed the greater importance of rehabilitation over general deterrence when sentencing youthful offenders. One of the main reasons that courts emphasise rehabilitation for young offenders is that young people are considered more likely to change as they are still developing. Youthful offenders are also more inclined to be influenced by criminal behaviour in prison.

In order to maximise a young offender’s chances of successful rehabilitation, courts may order that the young person undertake specific programs. Some of these are outlined below.

Ropes Program

The Ropes Program is a diversionary program for eligible teenagers who plead guilty to criminal offences. The program involves spending one day taking part in rope climbing activities with police rather than going through the criminal justice system.

P.A.R.T.Y Program

The P.A.R.T.Y Program is an in-hospital trauma prevention program that is designed to educate young people about the consequences of risk-taking behaviours. The program involves visiting emergency rooms and intensive care units and speaking to medical staff about injuries and how they impact lives.

Drug and Alcohol Counselling

When young offenders are charged with drug or alcohol-related offences, they may receive sentences that include a requirement that they have drug or alcohol counselling.

Behaviour Change Program

The Behaviour Change Program is a VicRoads program that is compulsory for anyone who has been found guilty of drink driving or drug driving offences. It is designed to help offenders to understand the factors that contributed to the offence occurring and to avoid such behaviour in the future.

Anger Management Program

When young offenders are charged with a violent offence, they may be required to participate in anger management training as part of their sentence or as part of a diversion program.

Limitations of youth as a sentencing factor

Although the courts take into account the considerations set out above when they sentence a young offender, they often find that other sentencing considerations are more important than the consideration relating to an offender’s youth. 

Other sentencing considerations that may outweigh the youth of the offender are the objective seriousness of the offences, their nature and circumstances, and the offender’s past prior criminal history.

If you require legal advice or representation in a criminal law matter or in any other legal matter please contact Armstrong Legal. 

Ulas Guldogan - Solicitor - Melbourne

This article was written by Ulas Guldogan - Solicitor - Melbourne

Ulas Guldogan holds a Bachelor of Laws and a Bachelor of Business majoring in Finance. He completed his Practical Legal Training at Leo Cussen Centre for Law. Ulas has a strong interests in Criminal Law, Family Law, Civil Law and Banking and Finance Law. When he is not entrenched in work, Ulas enjoys playing and watching AFL and basketball as...

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