Youth justice system

The youth justice system is the set of processes and practices for managing children and young people who have committed or allegedly committed an offence. Each state and territory in Australia has its own youth justice legislation, policies and practices. The general processes by which young people are charged and sentenced, and the types of legal orders available to the courts, are similar.

Young people can be charged with a criminal offence if they are aged 10 and over; however, this will change in the coming years in some states and territories as governments move to raise the age of criminal responsibility. There are separate justice systems for young people and adults. The upper age limit for the youth system is 17 (at the time of the offence) in all states and territories. Those aged 18 and over are dealt with under criminal legislation relating to adults.

Legislation to increase Queensland’s age limit for the youth justice system from age 16 to 17 was passed in November 2016 and enacted in February 2018. This change in legislation initially led to a rise in the number of young people supervised by youth justice in Queensland and nationally.

Some people aged 18 and over are also involved in the youth justice system. This can occur when:

  • the young person committed the offence when aged 17 and under, but was sentenced when aged 18 and over
  • the supervision is continued once the young person turns 18
  • the young person is particularly vulnerable or immature. 

In Victoria, some people aged 18–20 may be sentenced to detention in a youth facility under the state’s ‘dual track’ sentencing system (see Glossary).

Generally, young people first make contact with the youth justice system when police investigate them for allegedly committing a crime. Legal action taken by police may include court actions (the laying of charges to be answered in court) and non-court actions (such as cautions, conferencing, counselling, or infringement notices).

A court may decide to:

  • dismiss a charge
  • divert the young person from further involvement in the system (for example, by referral to other services), or
  • transfer the young person to specialist courts or programs.

If the matter proceeds and the charge is proven, the court may hand down various orders, either supervised or unsupervised.

Youth justice supervision

A major feature of any youth justice system is the supervision of young people on legal orders. They may be supervised in the community or in detention facilities. 

Most young people under youth justice supervision are supervised in the community rather than in detention. This is partly because a key principle in Australian youth justice is the idea that young people should be placed in detention only as a last resort. This principle is:

  • contained in youth justice legislation in each state and territory
  • consistent with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations 1989) – which states that children should be deprived of liberty only as a last resort and for the shortest appropriate period ­­– and with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (‘Beijing Rules’) (United Nations 1985).

Supervision may take place while young people are unsentenced – that is, when they have been charged with an offence and are awaiting the outcome of their court matter, or when they have been found or have pleaded guilty and are awaiting sentencing. 

Most of those under supervision on an average day are sentenced – that is, they have been found guilty in court, and received a sentence. Both unsentenced and sentenced supervision can take place in the community and in detention (Table 1.1).

Table 1.1: Types of youth justice supervision

Type of supervision



Unsentenced supervision

Supervised or conditional bail

Home detention bail

Remanded in custody (can be police- or court-referred)

Sentenced supervision

Probation or similar

Suspended detention

Parole or supervised release

Sentenced to detention

Unsentenced community-based supervision consists of supervised or conditional bail (which may include conditions such as a curfew or a monetary bond) and home detention bail. 

Sentenced community-based supervision comprises:

  1. probation and similar orders – where regular reporting to the youth justice agency and participation in treatment programs may be required
  2. suspended detention – where the young person must meet certain conditions (for example, abiding by a curfew, reporting to police or living at a specified address) or must not re‑offend within a specified time period 
  3. parole or supervised release – supervision that follows a period of detention. 

In Australia, information about young people under youth justice supervision is collected in the Youth Justice National Minimum Data Set (YJ NMDS). Table 1.2 summarises the types of youth justice services that are available in the states and territories and specifies the availability of data across the jurisdictions. 

Table 1.2 Supervised youth justice services in the YJ NMDS, by state and territory, 2022–23

Services and outcomes










Community-based supervision

Supervised or conditional bail or similar


Police-referred detention




Community-based supervision

Good behaviour bond




Probation and similar

Community service

Suspended detention(c)

Home detention

Parole or supervised release from detention(c)



✔ Youth justice outcome or service that is available in the state or territory.
(a)   In Tasmania, legislation does not explicitly preclude police-referred detention, but orders of this type are outside the scope of YJ NMDS submission since Tasmania began reporting in 2006–07.
(b)   This is a youth justice outcome or service that is available in the state or territory but is outside the scope of the YJ NMDS.
(c)   Suspended detention and supervised release from detention includes probation and parole.

Key policy directions in 2022–23

Youth justice policies are determined by state and territory governments and are largely implemented by youth justice agencies. Appendix D outlines information about the policy directions in each state and territory.

In 2022–23, some of the most commonly identified policy directions included:

  • undertaking early intervention to provide services and programs to at-risk young people and their families
  • offering alternatives to detention, including the use of warnings, cautions and conferencing 
  • providing bail assistance for young people to reduce unnecessary remand, particularly where a young person does not have access to suitable accommodation
  • delivering better outcomes for First Nations young people
  • providing effective evidence-based assessment processes, case-planning, and intervention/rehabilitation programs to mitigate the offending behaviour of young people under supervision
  • improving infrastructure in detention facilities
  • improving the pre- and post-release support provided to young people leaving custody, including accommodation and assistance to reintegrate into the community.

Young people’s involvement in the youth justice system is affected not only by policies implemented by youth justice agencies but also by policies developed in other areas such as child protection, accommodation and housing assistance services, education, employment, family and community services, and health. 

Recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory (Royal Commission and Board of Inquiry 2017) continue to be considered and implemented. As recommended, the Northern Territory provided YJ NMDS standard data from 2017–18 onwards, which had not been possible since 2008–09.

In August 2023, the Northern Territory raised the minimum age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12.

In March 2023, a new information system was implemented in the Northern Territory; hence, data published in Youth Justice in Australia 2022–23 will not be comparable with data in previous editions of the report. 

As well, new legislation was implemented for the Northern Territory youth justice system on 15 May 2021 – the Youth Justice Legislation Amendment Act (YJLAA) 2021 (the Act). The intent of the Act was to target repeat youth offenders to reduce youth crime. The Act resulted in some key changes to processes of the youth justice system. This change in legislation may have affected the number and rate of young people reported to be in detention in the Northern Territory.

In Australia, the Meeting of Attorneys-General (MAG) reviewed Australia’s age of criminal responsibility. The MAG noted that the Australian Capital Territory, Victoria, and the Northern Territory have committed to raising the minimum age of criminal responsibility; states have supported the development of proposals to raise the age, having regard to any carve outs, timing and discussion of implementation requirements (MAG 2022). 

In May 2023, the Australian Capital Territory introduced legislation to raise the criminal age of responsibility to 12 initially (implemented in November 2023), then to 14 within the next 2 years (expected to be implemented in mid-2025). 

In April 2023, Victoria announced it would raise the criminal age of responsibility to 12 by the end of 2024, and then to 14 by 2027, with exceptions for serious crimes and subject to the design and implementation of an alternative service model.

In June 2022, Tasmania committed to raising the age of criminal detention from age 10 to age 14. Subsequently, in September 2023, the report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Tasmanian Government’s Responses to Child Sexual Abuse in Institutional Settings recommended that the Tasmanian Government work towards increasing the minimum age of detention (including remand) to 16 by developing alternatives to detention for children aged 14 and 15 who are found guilty of serious violent offences and who may be a danger to themselves or the community.

In July 2020, the Australian Government released The National Agreement on Closing the Gap. Outcome 11 of the new agreement aims to reduce the over-representation of First Nations young people in the criminal justice system. The target is to reduce the rate of First Nations young people in detention by at least 30% by 2031 from 31.9 per 10,000 young people on an average day in 2018–19 to 22.3 per 10,000 by 2030–31 (Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 2020).

This report

This report presents information about young people in Australia who were under youth justice supervision during 2022–23, both in the community and in detention. It looks at the characteristics of these young people, key aspects of their supervision, and recent trends. It is based on data from the YJ NMDS for all states and territories in Australia. 

Numbers in this report include those for young people of all ages (including those aged 18 and over) unless otherwise specified. Proportions presented in this report are calculated off numbers presented in the report and/or supplementary tables. Population rates are calculated only for young people aged 10–17, as this is the main age group for youth justice supervision in most states and territories. Unless stated otherwise, all rates are per 10,000 young people aged 10–17 under youth justice supervision. See Appendix A – Data quality and technical notes for the impact of COVID-19 on population rates.

All data presented in this report are available through the online supplementary tables: Youth justice in Australia 2022–23, Data.

Average daily data, broken down by age, will not be comparable with data in Youth justice in Australia releases before 2019–20. For more information on the calculation of age, see Appendix A

Impact of COVID-19 on youth justice data (2020, 2021, 2022 and 2023)

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the ‘first wave’ of social restrictions was introduced in Australia in mid-March 2020. These restrictions were progressively eased in most states/territories from May 2020. A ‘second wave’ of social restrictions was introduced in Victoria from July 2020 and started to progressively ease from September 2020. A ‘third wave’ of social restrictions was introduced in New South Wales, Victoria and the Australian Capital Territory from June 2021 and started to progressively ease from October 2021. Since then, additional waves of COVID-19 have affected all jurisdictions with small restrictions in place during that time.

While – as outlined in the Prime Minister’s media announcement on 18 March 2020 – youth justice centres and other places of custody, courts or tribunals were considered essential services (the Hon. Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister 18 March 2020), COVID-19 has had a substantial impact on their operations, and restrictions they face 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 same 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 report includes data from March 2020 to June 2023, 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 under 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 youth justice supervision across Australia.