Principles of youth detention

The 2 main principles upon which the Australian youth justice system is based, and which are incorporated in state and territory legislation, are that young people should be detained only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period (Chrzanowski and Wallis 2011). This is consistent with international guidelines, such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (UN 1985, 1989).

Diverting young people from further involvement in the justice system is crucial to applying these principles. Forms of diversion include:

  • police warnings
  • referral to services such as drug and alcohol treatment
  • bail supervision for those at risk of remand
  • youth justice conferencing.

Alternatives to detention include:

  • transfer to specialist courts or programs
  • supervised or unsupervised community orders.

As a result, most young people under supervision in Australia are supervised in the community.

On an average day in 2021–22, just over 4 in 5 young people under supervision were supervised in the community, and almost 1 in 5 were in detention. Of those who were under supervision, just under half spent time in detention at some point during the year (AIHW 2023).