Opinion: Getting Youth Justice into perspective

Response to the call for submissions to the

Strengthening Community Safety Bill 2023 (Q)

from Peak Care (in summary)

Given the overlap of children and young people at risk of entry to, or in the youth justice system, with those engaged with the child protection system, PeakCare has a strong interest in youth justice reform including appropriate, proportionate, effective, timely, and holistic responses and interventions for children, young people and their families which also keep communities safe. With a longstanding history in advocating for better understanding and management of the complex intersection between the child protection and youth justice systems, PeakCare’s motivation in lodging this submission reflects the following:
• the need to address both the welfare and justice needs of children and young people who have been or who are in contact with the child protection system and the youth justice system,
particularly those who are subject to dual (interim or finalised) orders
• ensuring local access to prevention and early intervention services, responses and programs
for children, young people and families to ‘nip problems in the bud’ or ‘turn their lives around’
– the right service at the right time from the right provider for the right amount of time
• children and young people’s rights and entitlements (and that of their families) to understand
and participate in administrative and judicial decision-making
• congruence in legislative frameworks and the administration of youth justice, child protection,
and intersecting service systems (e.g., education and training, youth development, family
support, housing and homelessness, legal services and legal aid, health, alcohol and substances
misuse) directly or indirectly delivered across Queensland Government departments and their
• the impacts and opportunities presented by adopting specialist and other reforms to court
processes and policing practices across Queensland
• developing specific strategies to address the disproportionate representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people in the youth justice system, and
• the importance of underpinning policy directions and reforms with research evidence,
undertaking appropriate evaluation and acting on evaluation findings in a progressive and
transparent manner.

Consistent with these areas of interest, PeakCare wishes to express its disappointment with the Bill which we suggest will detract from the Government’s progressive work undertaken in the past to improve the youth justice system within Queensland. We consider that provisions contained within the Bill prioritise the offender status of children and young people and do not appropriately consider the fact that the children and young people who offend are first and foremost still children – children who are still developing physically, psychologically, socially, and emotionally and already have a relative powerlessness and lack of voice in our society. We consider, in alignment to the findings of the report into the evidence-base for the Child First Justice Initiative in the United Kingdom, the prioritisation of a child or young person’s offender status in youth justice responses can lead to further criminalisation within and by the youth justice system, increased marginalisation by society, and further disengagement by the child or young person.

PeakCare strongly supports appropriate diversionary interventions and addressing the causes of offending by children and young people to take priority over punitive and inappropriate punishments, and ensuring offending is considered only one part of a much more complex identity for these children and young people.

PeakCare appreciates that the Bill has, at least in part, arisen in response to the tragic deaths of a number of Queensland citizens. Their deaths, along with the death of Jennifer Board in Townsville, the innocent victim of alleged vigilantism, prompted immeasurable grief and an outpouring of public concern about youth crime widely reported on by the media. PeakCare also appreciates that the Government has attempted to confine and target the policy objectives of the Bill towards the small cohort of recidivist youth offenders who engage in persistent and serious offending. Little commentary is included within the Explanatory Notes about how these particular policy objectives fit within or are intended to support the Government’s overarching approach to youth crime.

Nevertheless, PeakCare’s concerns are that:
• some children and young people additional to those who constitute the targeted cohort will
inevitably become ‘swept up’ in the heightened responses, thereby reducing benefits of other
elements of the Government’s youth justice strategy in diverting these children and young
people from continuing on a trajectory into the adult criminal justice system, and
• assumptions have been made about the value of a number of the proposed provisions in
deterring children and young people from committing further offences that are not sufficiently
supported by research or an evidence-base.

Lindsay Wegener
Executive Director
PeakCare Queensland Incorporated

The full submission is available from (Rev Dr) Wayne Sanderson.


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