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 (AIHW 2021). 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

In response to the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, social distancing measures were introduced in Australia in mid-March 2020. While youth justice centres and other places of custody, courts or tribunals were considered essential services (Prime Minister of Australia 2020), COVID-19 still had a substantial impact on the operations of courts. At the time of writing, the extent of the impact is not fully understood and may differ between jurisdictions (Judicial College of Victoria 2020).

Youth justice data from 2019–20 includes the COVID-19 period, specifically between March and June 2020. However, more data are required to determine the impact of COVID-19 on the youth justice system. The full impact of COVID-19 may be difficult to determine due to variability of the data and small numbers of young people in youth justice on an average day. The AIHW will continue to investigate the impact of COVID-19 on youth justice data.

How many people are under youth justice supervision?

On an average day in 2019–20, 5,323 people aged 10 and over were under youth justice supervision. Among those aged 10–17, this was a rate of 16 per 10,000, or 1 in every 607 in this age group. A total of 10,222 young people were supervised by youth justice at some time during the year (from 1 July 2019 to 30 June 2020).

More than 4 in 5 (84%) young people under supervision on an average day in 2019–20 were supervised in the community, and 16% were in detention (some were supervised in the community and detention on the same day).

Most (87%) young people under community-based supervision on an average day were serving a sentence, while most (68%) of those in detention were unsentenced.

Variation in rates of supervision

For 10–17 year olds on an average day of youth justice supervision in 2019–20:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were more than 16 times as likely as non-Indigenous people to be under supervision—16 times as likely to be under community-based supervision, and more than 18 times as likely to be in detention (see Indigenous community safety)
  • males were more than 3 times as likely as females to be under supervision
  • young people from Very remote areas were 6 times as likely as those from Major cities to be under supervision
  • young people from the lowest socioeconomic areas were 5 times as likely as those from the highest socioeconomic areas to be under supervision.

Among the states and territories, rates of supervision for 10–17 year olds ranged from 9.0 per 10,000 on an average day in Victoria to 50 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory (Figure 1).

This vertical bar chart shows that the rate of supervision among people aged 10–17 varied among the states and territories, ranging from 9.0 per 10,000 in Victoria to 50 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory. Rates of community-based supervision followed a similar pattern to all supervision, and ranged from 7.2 per 10,000 in Victoria to 41 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory. Rates of detention ranged from 1.9 per 10,000 in Victoria to 9.9 per 10,000 in the Northern Territory.

Time under supervision

Individual periods of supervision completed during 2019–20 lasted for a median of 123 days (about 4 months). Completed periods of community-based supervision were much longer than completed periods of detention, with a median duration of 94 days (about 3 months) compared with 6 days. The median duration of completed periods of sentenced detention was longer than unsentenced detention (71 days compared with 5 days).

When the total time spent under supervision during 2019–20 is considered (including multiple periods and those not yet completed), young people supervised during the year spent an average of 190 days or about 6 months under supervision.

Trends

Over the 5 years from 2015–16 to 2019–20, the number of people aged 10 and over who were under supervision on an average day fell by 4% (5,527 to 5,323). The rate for people aged 10–17 dropped from 20 to 16 per 10,000
(Figure 2).

In community-based supervision, the number of young people on an average day fell by 3% (4,639 to 4,490) over the 5-year period. The rate dropped from 17 to 14 per 10,000 for those aged 10–17.

In detention, the number on an average day fell by 6% (915 to 863) over the same period.

This line graph shows that the rate of community-based supervision remained much higher than detention over the 5 years to 2019–20. Overall, supervision has been trending slightly downward (from 20 to 16 per 10,000), in parallel with community-based supervision (which fell from 17 to 14 per 10,000), while detention rates declined slightly from 3.3 to 2.8 per 10,000.

Interaction with other services

Many vulnerable young people under youth justice supervision are also involved with other services. Data are available on young people’s involvement with: youth justice and alcohol and other drug treatment services; and youth justice and child protection.

Alcohol and other drug treatment

People aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision at any time between June 2012 and July 2016 were 30 times as likely as the general population to have received alcohol and other drug treatment services during that period (33% compared with just over 1%) (AIHW 2018).

Child protection

More than half of young people (or 1 in 2) aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision, during 2018–19, had received a child protection service in the 5 years from 1 July 2014 to 30 June 2019. The general population was far less likely to be involved in child protection. In 2018–19, 1 in 33 children aged 0–17 received child protection services (AIHW 2020).

Where do I go for more information?

See Youth justice for more on this topic.

For more information on youth justice, see:

References

AIHW (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare) 2018. Overlap between youth justice supervision and alcohol and other drug treatment services: 1 July 2012 to 30 June 2016. Cat. no. JUV 126. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2020. Young people under youth justice supervision and in child protection 2018–19. Data linkage series no. 26. Cat. no. CSI 28. Canberra: AIHW.

AIHW 2021. Youth justice in Australia 2019–20. Cat. No. JUV 134. Canberra: AIHW.