People who commit or allegedly commit a crime when aged 10–17 may be dealt with under the youth justice system. Each state and territory in Australia has its own youth justice legislation, policies and practices but the general processes by which young people are charged, and the types of legal orders available to the courts, are similar.
Some people aged 18 and over may also be supervised in the youth justice system. Depending on the jurisdiction, this may be because they were apprehended for a crime that was (allegedly) committed when they were 17 or younger, their existing supervision continues once they turn 18 (instead of being transferred to the adult correctional system), or a court determines that they should be detained in a youth justice facility due to their vulnerability or immaturity.
Young people may be supervised when they are unsentenced – that is, when they are awaiting the outcome of their court matter or sentencing – or they may be sentenced to supervision after being proven guilty in court. Both unsentenced and sentenced supervision can take place in the community or in a detention facility (see glossary for definitions).
Data on this page are taken from the AIHW’s Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set and includes information about young people in Australia who were under youth justice supervision during 2021–22 and recent trends (AIHW 2023). Numbers include young people of all ages (including those aged 18 and over) unless otherwise specified. Population rates are only calculated for people aged 10–17.
Impact of COVID-19 on youth justice data (2020, 2021 and 2022)
In an effort to reduce the spread of COVID-19, restrictions were put in place across Australia throughout 2020 and 2021, including non-essential service shutdowns and social distancing. During 2022, small restrictions remained in place in a variety of settings for all jurisdictions.
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 of 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 page includes data from March 2020 to June 2022, which coincides with the presence of COVID-19 in Australia. However, the direct impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on the number of young people in youth justice supervision 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 under supervision.
More research is required to better understand the impact of COVID-19 and related social restrictions on youth justice supervision across Australia.
How many people are under youth justice supervision?
On an average day in 2021–22, 4,536 people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. Among those aged 10–17, this was a rate of 13 per 10,000. A total of 8,982 young people were supervised by youth justice at some time during the year (from 1 July 2021 to 30 June 2022).
About 4 in 5 (82%) young people under supervision on an average day in 2021–22 were supervised in the community, and 18% were in detention.
Most (84%) young people under community-based supervision on an average day were serving a sentence, while almost 3 in 4 (76%) of those in detention were unsentenced.
Variation in rates of supervision
For young people aged 10–17 on an average day of youth justice supervision in 2021–22:
- Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were about 19 times as likely as non-Indigenous Australians to be under supervision – about 17 times as likely to be under community-based supervision, and about 24 times as likely to be in detention (see Indigenous community safety).
- Males were almost 4 times as likely as females to be under supervision.
- Young people from Very remote areas were about 7 times as likely as those from Major cities to be under supervision.
- Young people from the lowest socioeconomic areas were about 5 times as likely as those from the highest socioeconomic areas to be under supervision.
Among the states and territories, rates of supervision for young people aged 10–17 years ranged from 5.8 per 10,000 on an average day in Victoria to 46 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Rate of young people aged 10–17 under supervision on an average day, by supervision type, states and territories, 2021–22